By now, you’ve likely heard the news that on Wednesday morning, New York attorney general Letitia James filed a giant lawsuit against Donald Trump, his three eldest children, and the Trump Organization, alleging more than a decade of “staggering” fraud that allowed the family to rake in hundreds of millions in ill-gotten gains. In a 222-page filing, James accused the defendants of spending years systematically lying about the value of their assets in order to guarantee bigger loans, better insurance rates, and to smaller tax bills. For example, according to the suit, while 40 Wall Street, a downtown building owned by the Trump Organization, was valued at $200 million on a tax filing in 2010, the very next year, the valuation had suddenly skyrocketed to $524 million. In total, the complaint alleges that the defendants made over 200 false and misleading valuations from 2011 to 2021, some of which were made during Trump’s presidency. “The pattern of fraud that was used by Mr. Trump and the Trump organization was astounding,” James told reporters, noting that, for regular people, it’s illegal to lie to banks to secure loans, whether it’s for mortgages or to send their children to college. “There cannot be different rules for different people in this country or in this state,” she said. The AG’s office is seeking $250 million in damages and to permanently ban the ex-president, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump from ever running a business in New York again, among other penalties.
At this time, you probably have questions. Luckily, we have answers.
How did the fraud alleged by James work, exactly?
Honestly, it was pretty simple: They (allegedly) just made shit up, and quite boldly at that. For example, Trump’s triplex in Trump Tower is 10,996 square feet. But in 2015, he said claimed it was approximately 3 times that size in order to secure a completely ridiculous valuation of $327 million. (“That price was absurd given the fact that at that point only one apartment in New York City had ever sold for even $100 million, at a price per square foot of less than $10,000, and that sale was in a newly built, ultra-tall tower,” James’ office said. “In 30-year-old Trump Tower, the record sale at that time was a mere $16.5 million at a price of less than $4,500 per square foot.”) At Trump Park Avenue, the man with his name on the door valued, per James, “12 rent-stabilized units at market rate, inflating the value by 65 times.” At Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach for-profit club and home, Trump said the property was worth $739 million when, in fact, it is worth roughly one tenth of that due to restrictions on development (and, we’re guessing, the ketchup stains that are impossible to get out of the rugs). At a Westchester golf club, a valuation was generated by taking into account steep initiation fees that were never collected. The lawsuit includes numerous other examples of what the AG’s office says are false financial filings, including one in which Trump allegedly inflated his wealth on financial statements that were provided to Deutsche Bank when he was trying to buy the Buffalo Bills.
They say children should not have to pay for the sins of their father. Are Don Jr., Ivanka, and Eric being unfairly swept up in all this? Are they actually just innocent kids we should all give a break?
[Author flashes the “give me a minute sign” while she catches her breath from laughing.]
In a word, no. In several words: No! Come on! According to James, Trump’s three eldest children—all of whom have served as executives of the firm—“knowingly participated” in the fraudulent schemes laid out in the complaint, which “required” both Trump and their assistance to pull off on such a large scale. In Vegas, for example, the suit accuses Eric Trump of using “the fraudulent valuation methods and assumptions” laid out by the AG to inflate the value of Trump Vegas every year from 2013 to 2016. Donald Trump Jr. was apparently in on the Trump Park Avenue scam. Ivanka, the apple of the ex-president’s very creepy eye, was allegedly involved in securing loans to buy Florida and Chicago properties in 2012, loans that were issued in part due to false financial statements. “On each of those transactions with Deutsche Bank, Ms. Trump was aware that the transactions included a personal guaranty from Mr. Trump that required him to provide annual Statements of Financial Condition and certifications,” the lawsuit says.
You’ve referred to Trump’s “adult children,” but have left out Tiffany, who is 28. Was she sued too?
She was not. Tiffany has never worked for the Trump Organization, and while she may have felt left out of the family when she was growing up, that’s obviously paying off for her now.
Where was Trump when he learned about the lawsuit?
That’s not clear at this time; most likely trying to intercept the mail before his housekeeper could open the penis-enlarging pills he’d ordered from China a week prior, even though he TOLD everyone he had something PRIVATE coming and that they were NOT to go through his stuff.
How is this connected to the Manhattan district attorney’s criminal case against the Trump Organization?
The cases are separate but have some overlap. Both offices opened parallel investigations on the suspicion that the Trump Organization had committed fraud, and in 2021, the attorney general’s office joined the DA’s criminal inquiry. In July 2021, the Trump Organization and its longtime CFO, Allen Weisselberg, were criminally charged by the DA for engaging in a yearslong scheme to enrich company executives with noncash perks on which taxes were not paid. Last month, Weisselberg pleaded guilty, and as part of that deal, will have to testify against Trump Organization, which has pleaded not guilty, at a trial scheduled to take place in October.
In her Wednesday filing, James said her lawsuit partially draws on Trump’s alleged instructions to Weisselberg to inflate his assets on financial statements. Weisselberg, along with another Trump Organization controller Jeffrey McConney, have also been named defendants.
If James’s suit is a civil one, does that mean the Trumps don’t have to worry about prison time?
Not exactly! While it’s true that James’s office does not have the authority to criminally prosecute the Trumps, she has referred her findings to federal prosecutors and Internal Revenue Service and has noted that, in addition to allegedly violating a number of state criminal laws, they “plausibly” broke federal criminal law too.
In related news, Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg said Wednesday his criminal “investigation concerning former President Donald J. Trump, the Trump Organization, and its leadership is active and ongoing.”
Is there any overlap with the classified-documents investigation?
You know, you wouldn’t think there would be, but actually, yes. In the suit, James’s office said it believes the tax records seized as part of the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago may have been purposely hidden from them. Synergies!