Donald Trump’s attempt to avoid testifying in a civil probe of his real estate business triggered a flood of early revelations from New York Attorney General Letitia James in a court filing seeking to justify her investigation.
The Democrat late Tuesday night offered the court a detailed preview of her findings so far to push back on Trump’s claim that the investigation is political theater and bolster her request for a court order forcing the former president and two of his children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, to sit for depositions and hand over documents.
The filing, in state court in Manhattan, doesn’t accuse Trump of breaking any laws or suggest that criminal charges will be brought. But the evidence shows “significant” examples of “fraudulent or misleading” valuations that helped Trump win better terms for loans, insurance coverage and tax deductions, James told the court. She said the discrepancies cover a wide variety of assets, from undeveloped lots for luxury homes to improper markups for the value of Trump’s brand.
Alina Habba, a lawyer for Trump, reiterated in an email his claim that James started the investigation to advance her political career, calling the filing “merely the latest in a long line of unfounded attacks against my client.”
Here are highlights of the filing.
This 212-acre property in Westchester County, near Manhattan, was purchased by the Trump Organisation in 1995 and has been at the centre of James’s probe since it started in 2019. Trump valued Seven Springs at $80 million in 2004, at $200 million in 2007 and at $291 million in 2012, James said. The last jump in value was based on the questionable claim that Seven Springs was zoned for nine luxury homes worth $161 million in profit, she said.
“Two separate, professional appraisers valued the lots that were supposedly going to be developed at mere fractions of the prices used in the Trump Statement of Financial Condition,” James said.
Trump Tower Triplex
Evidence uncovered in the probe so far shows the Trump Organisation overvalued Trump’s massive Manhattan triplex apartment in Trump Tower, which at one point jumped in value by $127 million, James said. Former Trump Organisation chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg admitted the value of the apartment was overstated by “give or take” $200 million, according to the attorney general.
“The valuations of Mr. Trump’s triplex apartment in Trump Tower since at least 2012 were based on the assertion that the triplex apartment was 30,000 square feet in size,” James said. “However, the actual size of Mr. Trump’s triplex apartment was 10 996 square feet, and documents confirming that fact were signed by Mr. Trump himself in 2012.”
Scotland Golf Club
Trump International Golf Club Scotland, purchased by the Trump Organisation in 2006 for $12.6 million, was valued at about $161 million in 2011 for Trump’s financial statements, James said. But the valuation wasn’t prepared by a professional and was instead based on an email “to provide information to Forbes magazine for a quote,” according to the attorney general.
Trump’s 2014 financial statement valued the Scotland property at $435 million, in part “by assuming the right to build 2 500 luxury homes on the property despite approval to build fewer than 1 500 holiday apartments and golf villas,” James said.
The former president’s financial statements falsely represented that they didn’t include any brand value, even though an “undisclosed added brand premium” had been tacked on to most of the listed properties, James said. Trump was “personally aware” of the alleged brand value discrepancy, which contradicted the expectations of financial institutions that provided loans and insurance for the properties, James said in her statement
“From 2013-2014, seven golf club facilities were valued in a manner that included an undisclosed flat 30 percent premium on top of fixed assets for a ‘fully operational branded facility,’” James said. “From 2015-2020, the value of those same seven facilities included an undisclosed flat 15 percent premium.”
Westchester Golf Club
The Trump National Golf Club Westchester was valued at $68.7 million on Trump’s 2011 financial statements, James said. That was based in part on the projected value of initiation fees of $150,000 each for 67 unsold memberships, a figure that was expected to “only rise,” according to the attorney general.
“But the investigation determined that the $150,000 number was false,” James said. “Many new members paid no deposit at all in 2011, and Trump Organization records showed no members paid an initiation fee in 2012.”
James said evidence uncovered in the probe shows that for years Weisselberg misrepresented the source of valuations on Trump’s financial statements in order to secure favourable terms for insurance coverage. For example, Weisselberg falsely claimed on several occasions that valuations in Trump’s personal financial statements were prepared by professional appraisal firms, she said.
“With respect to nearly all valuations, the Trump Organization did not retain any professional appraisal firm to prepare the valuations of the Trump Organization’s real estate holdings that appeared in Mr. Trump’s financial statements shown to the underwriter,” James said. “Rather, the valuations were prepared by Trump Organization staff, contrary to what an underwriter was expressly told and believed.”
Weisselberg’s lawyer, Mary Mulligan, declined to comment on James’s findings.
Evidence also indicates that Trump’s company submitted “fraudulent or misleading” asset valuations to the Internal Revenue Service related to the Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles and the Seven Springs property in Westchester, where overly rosy claims about value and development potential helped Trump win a huge tax break, James said.
One such appraisal “substantially overstated” the value of land donated at the Los Angeles property by giving an unrealistic timeline for developing the site and “failing to account for a reduction in affordable housing requirements that the donation enabled,” according to James’s filing. One appraiser wrote that Trump was “fighting for every $1,” she said.
James said the evidence indicates a similar problem with 158 acres donated at Seven Springs in 2015 after Trump’s effort to develop the property failed. The attorney general said she found evidence that the number of lots Trump used to calculate the value of the so-called conservation easement “was more than double what was permitted by development restrictions imposed by a locality — restrictions that the Trump Organization was long aware of.”
The case is New York v The Trump Organization, 451685/2020, Supreme Court of the State of New York (Manhattan).