April 20, 2024

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York judge ordered Donald Trump on Friday to pay $355 million in penalties, finding that the former president lied about his wealth for years in a sweeping civil fraud verdict that pierces his billionaire image but stops short of putting his real estate empire out of business.

Judge Arthur Engoron’s decision after a trial in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit punishes Trump, his company and executives, including his two eldest sons, for scheming to dupe banks, insurers and others by inflating his wealth on financial statements. It forces a shakeup at the top of his Trump Organization, putting the company under court supervision and curtailing how it does business.

The decision is a staggering setback for the Republican presidential front-runner, the latest and costliest consequence of his recent legal troubles. The magnitude of the verdict on top of penalties in other cases could dramatically dent Trump’s financial resources and damage his identity as a savvy businessman who parlayed his fame as a real estate developer into reality TV stardom and the presidency. He has vowed to appeal and won’t have to pay immediately.

Trump’s true punishment could be far costlier because under state law he is also required to pay interest on the penalties, which James said puts him on the hook for a total of more than $450 million. The amount, which would be paid to the state, will grow until he pays.

The judge made clear, however, that the Trump Organization will continue to operate, backing away from an earlier ruling that would have dissolved Trump’s companies.

Engoron, a Democrat, concluded that Trump and his company were “likely to continue their fraudulent ways” without the penalties and controls he imposed. Engoron concluded that Trump and his co-defendants “failed to accept responsibility” and that experts who testified on his behalf “simply denied reality.”

“This is a venial sin, not a mortal sin,” Engoron wrote in a searing 92-page opinion. “They did not rob a bank at gunpoint. Donald Trump is not Bernard Madoff. Yet, defendants are incapable of admitting the error of their ways.”

He said their “complete lack of contrition and remorse borders on pathological” and “the frauds found here leap off the page and shock the conscience.”

FILE – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, puts his hand on the shoulder of his son, Eric, while speaking at a caucus night rally, Feb. 23, 2016, in Las Vegas. A New York judge ruled Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, against Trump, imposing a $364 million penalty over what the judge ruled was a yearslong scheme to dupe banks and others with financial statements that inflated the former president’s wealth. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

FILE - Eric Trump, left, and Donald Trump Jr., wait for President Donald Trump to speak from the South Lawn of the White House, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington. A New York judge ruled Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, against Donald Trump, imposing a $364 million penalty over what the judge ruled was a yearslong scheme to dupe banks and others with financial statements that inflated the former president's wealth. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

FILE – Eric Trump, left, and Donald Trump Jr., wait for President Donald Trump to speak from the South Lawn of the White House, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington. A New York judge ruled Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, against Donald Trump, imposing a $364 million penalty over what the judge ruled was a yearslong scheme to dupe banks and others with financial statements that inflated the former president’s wealth. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Trump said the decision was “election inference” and “weaponization against a political opponent,” complaining to reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida that he was being penalized for “having built a perfect company, great cash, great buildings, great everything.”

James, a Democrat, told reporters “justice has been served” and called the ruling “a tremendous victory for this state, this nation, and for everyone who believes that we all must play by the same rules — even former presidents.”

Former U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to appeal after a New York judge ordered him and his companies on Friday to pay $355 million in penalties, finding they engaged in a yearslong scheme to dupe banks and others with financial statements that inflated his wealth. (Feb. 16)

“Now, Donald Trump is finally facing accountability for his lying, cheating, and staggering fraud. Because no matter how big, rich or powerful you think you are, no one is above the law,” James said.

Trump still owns the Trump Organization, but he put his assets into a revocable trust and relinquished a leadership role when he became president in 2017, putting his sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr. in charge of day-to-day operations. Engoron’s ruling imposes a three-year ban on Trump serving as an officer or director of any New York company and bars his sons for two years, effectively requiring the company to find new leadership, at least temporarily.

Donald Trump suffered a big blow Friday as a New York judge ordered the former president and his companies to pay $355 million in penalties for what the judge described as a scheme to deceive banks and insurers by exaggerating his wealth on his annual financial statements. (Feb 16) (AP production by Javier Arciga)

The monetary penalties involve what Engoron said were “ill-gotten gains” that Trump attained by making himself seem richer. They include money Trump saved by securing lower loan interest rates and profits from the sale of properties that he might not have been able to develop without that financing.

Eric and Donald Trump Jr. were each ordered to pay $4 million, their share of profits from the 2022 sale of Trump’s Washington, D.C. hotel, and the company’s former longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg was ordered to pay $1 million — half of the $2 million severance he’s receiving. All told, Trump and his co-defendants owe $364 million, which James’ office said grows to $464 million when interest is included. Weisselberg and another longtime company executive, Jeffrey McConney, were barred from ever holding a corporate finance or leadership role in the state.

Engoron put the Trump Organization under the supervision of a independent monitor for at least three years, extending oversight he ordered after James sued Trump in 2022, and said the company must hire an independent compliance director to ensure that it follows financial reporting obligations and rules.

Engoron wrote that stripping Trump of his companies, as he’d previously ordered, was no longer necessary because the company will be under a “two-tiered oversight” with the independent monitor, retired federal judge Barbara Jones, and the compliance director keeping an eye on any activities that could lead to fraud.

Because it was civil, not criminal, the case did not carry the potential of prison time.

Engoron issued his decision after a 2½-month trial that Trump turned into a frequent, albeit unorthodox campaign stage. He trekked to court nearly a dozen times, watching testimony, grousing to news cameras outside the courtroom and bristling under oath that he was the victim of a rigged legal system.

During the trial, Trump called Engoron “extremely hostile” and James “a political hack.” He also incurred $15,000 in fines for violating a gag order that the judge imposed after he made a disparaging and untrue social media post about a key court staffer.

In a six-minute diatribe during closing arguments in January, Trump proclaimed “I am an innocent man” and called the case a “fraud on me.”

Trump has boasted for years about his wealth, but James’ lawsuit alleged that his claims weren’t just harmless bragging but years of deceptive practices as he built the multinational collection of skyscrapers, golf courses and other properties that catapulted him to wealth, fame and the White House.

The suit accused Trump and his co-defendants of routinely puffing up his financial statements to create an illusion his properties were more valuable than they really were. State lawyers said Trump exaggerated his wealth by as much as $3.6 billion one year.

James brought the case under a New York law that authorizes her to investigate persistent fraud in business dealings. Trump incorporated the Trump Organization in New York in 1981.

Even before the trial began, Engoron ruled that James had proven Trump’s financial statements were fraudulent. The judge ordered some of Trump’s companies removed from his control and dissolved. An appeals court put that decision on hold.

In that earlier ruling, the judge found that, among other tricks, Trump’s financial statements had wrongly claimed his Trump Tower penthouse was nearly three times its actual size and overvalued his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, based on the idea that the property could be developed for residential use, even though he had surrendered rights to develop it for any uses but a club.

Trump, one of 40 witnesses to testify at the trial, said his financial statements actually understated his net worth. Trump maintains that he is worth several billion dollars and testified last year that he had about $400 million in cash, in addition to properties and other investments.

Reiterating his testimony, Trump said Friday, “There were no victims because the banks made a lot of money.”

Trump and his lawyers have said outside accountants who helped prepare the statements should have flagged any discrepancies and have said the documents came with disclaimers that shielded him from liability. They also argued that some of the allegations were barred by the statute of limitations.

Engoron decided the case because neither side sought a jury and state law doesn’t allow for juries for this type of lawsuit.

The suit is one of many legal headaches for Trump as he campaigns for a return to the White House. He has been indicted four times in the last year — accused in Georgia and Washington, D.C., of plotting to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, in Florida of hoarding classified documents, and in Manhattan of falsifying business records related to hush money paid to porn actor Stormy Daniels on his behalf.

On Thursday, a judge confirmed Trump’s hush-money trial will start March 25. A judge in Atlanta heard arguments Thursday and Friday on whether to remove Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from his Georgia election interference case because she had a personal relationship with a special prosecutor she hired.

Those criminal accusations haven’t appeared to undermine his march toward a rematch with President Joe Biden, but civil litigation has threatened him financially.

Last month, a jury ordered Trump to pay $83.3 million to writer E. Jean Carroll for defaming her after she accused him in 2019 of sexually assaulting her in a Manhattan department store in the 1990s. That’s on top of the $5 million a jury awarded Carroll in a related trial last year.

In 2022, the Trump Organization was convicted of tax fraud and fined $1.6 million in an unrelated criminal case for helping executives dodge taxes on extravagant perks such as Manhattan apartments and luxury cars.

James, who campaigned for office as a Trump critic and watchdog, started scrutinizing his business practices in March 2019 after his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen testified to Congress that Trump exaggerated his wealth on financial statements provided to Deutsche Bank while trying to obtain financing to buy the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

James’ office previously sued Trump for misusing his own charitable foundation to further his political and business interests. Trump was ordered to pay $2 million to an array of charities as a fine and the charity, the Trump Foundation, was shut down.

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Adriana Gomez Licon in Palm Beach, Florida, and Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.