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Donald Trump and family members allegedly lied to tax collectors, lenders and insurers for years in a scheme that routinely misstated the value of his properties to enrich themselves, according to a suit filed by New York’s Attorney General on Wednesday.
Top state prosecutor Letitia James said that with the help of his children and others at the Trump Organisation, the former President provided fraudulent statements of his net worth and false asset valuations “to obtain and satisfy loans, get insurance benefits, and pay lower taxes.”
“In short, he lied to gain massive financial benefits for himself.”
The sweeping investigation is one of many criminal, civil and congressional probes into Trump, who is eyeing another run for the White House in 2024.
Trump repeated his oft-used defense that the suit was “another witch hunt” against him, while his spokesperson denounced it as a political move by Democrats against the Republican businessman.
James’ office requests that the former President pays at least $250 million in penalties – a sum she says he made from the fraud – and that his family be banned from running businesses in the state.
She also urged that Trump along with his children Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump be barred from purchasing property in the state for five years.
“The very foundation of his purported net worth is rooted in incredible fraud and illegality,” James said in a statement.
Referring the title of Trump’s book “The Art of Deal,” she said that “Mr. Trump thought he could get away with the art of the steal, but today, that conduct ends.”
– ‘Staggering’ overvaluations –
James said her office, which lacks authority to file criminal charges, was making a criminal referral to the US Justice Department as well as the Internal Revenue Service based on the three-year investigation.
The lawsuit filed with the New York State Supreme Court includes allegations that Trump’s annual financial statements for at least a decade “grossly inflated” property values across his assets – from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to Manhattan’s Trump Tower – to a “staggering” degree.
He did so to obtain favorable loans with lower interests and premiums, said James, who is running to be re-elected to her post in November.
Her office counted that Trump and his associates put out more than 200 false and misleading valuations of assets.
The suit details tactics used by Trump and his associates, saying they would represent that he had cash on hand when he didn’t, change valuation properties wildly, and use “objectively false numbers to calculate property values” including at his famous triplex on Fifth Avenue.
Among the alleged crimes was also valuing 12 rent-stabilised units at market rate in his Trump Park Avenue property – inflating the value by 65 times, James said.
“White collar financial crime is not a victimless crime,” James said.
“When the well-connected break the law to take in more money than they are entitled to, it reduces resources available to working people, to regular people, to small businesses and to all tax payers.”
James’ lawsuit requests that a judge appoint an independent authority to monitor the Trump Organisation’s financial practices, and remove the Trumps from their own family business.