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Judge Engoron lowers the tone on Donald Trump

Judge Engoron lowers the tone on Donald Trump

 


After keeping the world waiting for a few more weeks, Judge Arthur Engoron delivered his judgment Friday in Donald Trump's civil fraud trial. It was a severe sanction: a fine of three hundred and fifty-five million dollars and a ban on Trump from holding a management position in a New York company for three years. The decision was based on Engoron's conclusion that Trump and the Trump Organization were responsible for persistently and blatantly inflating the value of their assets on financial documents they submitted to banks and other financial institutions. The frauds uncovered here are obvious and shocking to the conscience, Engoron wrote in a damning ninety-two page ruling, in which he also suggests that the Trump Organization was so twisted from top to bottom that it cannot do anything just don't, or don't want to. prepare a statement of financial position without committing fraud.

Trump's three-year ban on running a business in New York falls short of state Attorney General Letitia James' call for him to be permanently barred from the real estate industry in the state. But Engoron's fines, which also included $9 million to Trump's two eldest sons and $1 million to Allen Weisselberg, former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, more or less matched James' request of three hundred seventy. million bucks. Although it seems unlikely that Engoron's decision will plunge the Trump empire into bankruptcy, it represents a major financial setback for Trump, the second this year. Last month, a jury ordered him to pay $83.3 million for defamation against writer E. Jean Carroll after she accused him of raping her in the 1990s.

The Engoron ruling ended a six-month drama that began last September when he issued a preliminary ruling that the role Trump and other defendants played in preparing the inflated financial statements made them liable for fraud under article 63 (12) of the New York Times. York Executive Law. The law gives the Attorney General broad powers to investigate and prosecute any person suspected of committing repeated fraudulent or illegal acts or otherwise demonstrating[d] persistent fraud or illegality in the exercise, conduct or transaction of a business. Engoron, in his initial ruling, said Trump's financial disclosure statements clearly contain fraudulent valuations that the defendants used in their cases, thereby satisfying the OAG's burden of establishing liability as a matter of law against the defendants.

The trial, in which both sides called forty witnesses, was held to determine whether the defendants were responsible for the remaining six counts in the Attorney General's indictment, including conspiracy to submit false financial statements and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, and to determine the amount of the financial penalty. be. In his final ruling, Engoron said the evidence demonstrated the defendants were liable on the additional counts, and he based the amount of his fine on the financial benefits Trump allegedly gained from submitting false statements.

Engoron made light of Trump's defense that his accountants were responsible for the inflated documents and that those documents didn't matter, anyway, because the banks were doing their own due diligence. In his ruling, Engoron pointed to testimony from Donald Bender, a partner at the accounting firm Mazars, who made it clear that the Trump Organization was responsible for ensuring that assets were reported at their estimated current value. The judge also pointed to testimony from one of Trump's staffers that Trump had final approval of statements about financial status, and the former president himself admitted, when taking the witness stand , that he had discussed the statements with Weisselberg, the Trump. Former financial director of the organization.

During the trial, Trump repeatedly claimed, inside and outside the courtroom, that he was being harassed for political reasons. Unsurprisingly, Engoron did not attach much importance to these statements. Referring to Trump's actual evidence, he wrote: “Overall, Donald Trump rarely responded to questions asked, and he frequently delivered lengthy, irrelevant speeches on issues far beyond the scope of the trial.” His refusal to answer questions directly, or in some cases, to answer questions, seriously compromised his credibility.

Attention will now focus on Trump's appeal – we hope the Appellate Division overturns this egregious verdict, one of his lawyers, Alina Habba, said in a statement and on his ability to pay the fines imposed. Factoring in interest, the former president and his family could be responsible for paying nearly half a billion dollars in this case and the Carroll case combined, which would likely require the former president to sell a or more of his trophies. In the immediate future, he will have to raise tens of millions of dollars in cash to post bonds while he awaits his appeals of the two judgments. Given the Trump Organization's habit of spending money on golf courses and other loss-making properties, this could present some difficulties.

In his 2019 statement of financial position, Trump claimed to have eighty-seven million dollars in cash and cash equivalents. But evidence presented at trial suggests that the Trump Organization included in its financial statements cash from its partnership with Vornado Realty Trust, which was under Vornado's control. Since Trump reluctantly left the White House in January 2021, he has received two substantial windfalls. The first occurred in 2022, after the Trump Organization sold the former Trump International Hotel, on the site of the Old Post Office in Washington, D.C., selling it to a group of investors for a reported price of three one hundred and seventy-five million dollars. . After paying off debts on the property, the net proceeds from the sale were $131.4 million before taxes, according to the Times. The Trump Organization also benefited from the refinancing of an office building in San Francisco that it co-owns with Vornado. According to Forbes, this deal earned him one hundred and sixty-two million dollars.

In a deposition to James' staff last year, Trump said, “I think we have over four hundred million dollars in cash, which is a lot for a developer.”

Any statement Trump makes regarding his finances should be taken with a grain of salt, of course, that's what this whole thing is about. Based on a recent estimate prepared by Forbes, which puts his net worth at $2.6 billion, it seems likely that he has the financial wherewithal to support this fine if his appeal is unsuccessful. Even so, the ruling could more than erase the financial gains he made from deals with Old Post Office and Vornado, and raise questions about his wider empire.

Trump was not Bernie Madoff, Engoron said near the end of his ruling: He and his co-defendants were accused only of inflating asset values ​​to make more money. The documents prove this time and time again. But after four years of investigation and litigation, the only thing they had admitted to was tripling the size of the Trump Tower Penthouse, which cannot be denied. Engoron, who, like Trump, is a septuagenarian product of Queens, was driven toward poetry in his decision. After quoting Alexander Pope's famous line: “To err is human, to forgive is divine,” he commented of Trump and others: “Their complete lack of contrition and remorse borders on the pathological.”

It's Trump everywhere, of course. For decades he has denied any wrongdoing, attacked his detractors and continued anyway. In this case, a court finally held him accountable for his actions. And of course, he doesn't like it at all.

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