NEW YORK, Sept 26 (Reuters) – A New York judge found Donald Trump and his family business fraudulently inflated the value of his properties and other assets, in a major defeat for the former U.S. president that could severely restrict his ability to do business in the state.
The scathing decision by Justice Arthur Engoron of the New York state court in Manhattan will make it easier for state Attorney General Letitia James to establish damages at a scheduled Oct. 2 trial.
Engoron also ordered the cancellation of business certificates for the Trump Organization and other corporate defendants, and ordered the appointment of a receiver to manage their dissolution.
The judge described how Trump, his adult sons Donald Jr. and Eric, the Trump Organization and other defendants made up valuations and inflated Trump’s net worth to suit their business needs.
“That is a fantasy world, not the real world,” Engoron wrote.
The judge also sanctioned the defendants’ lawyers for making “preposterous” legal arguments and fueling their clients’ “obstreperous” conduct.
Lawyers for Trump and the other defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Trump, who holds a commanding lead in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has denied all wrongdoing, and attacked James’ case and other litigation against him as part of a politically-motivated “witch hunt.”
MAR-A-LAGO, TRUMP TOWER
James sued Trump in Sept. 2022, accusing him, his adult children and the Trump Organization of lying for a decade about asset values and his net worth to defraud banks and insurers into providing better terms.
The attorney general has said Trump inflated his net worth by as much as $2.23 billion, and by one measure as much as $3.6 billion, on annual financial statements.
Engoron said James had established liability for false valuations of several properties including Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, his penthouse apartment in Manhattan’s Trump Tower, and various office buildings and golf courses.
He took particular issue with Trump’s claim that the penthouse was 30,000 square feet, nearly three times its actual size, resulting in an overvaluation of as much as $207 million.
“A discrepancy of this order of magnitude, by a real estate developer sizing up his own living space of decades, can only be considered fraud,” Engoron wrote.
The judge also chided Trump for offering defenses in a deposition that were “wholly without basis,” legally and factually.
“He claims that if the values of the property have gone up in the years since the (financial statements) were submitted, then the numbers were not inflated at that time,” Engoron wrote.
“He also seems to imply that the numbers cannot be inflated because he could find a ‘buyer from Saudi Arabia’ to pay any price he suggests.”
SLEW OF LITIGATION
Engoron ruled three months after a state appeals court said some of James’ claims were too old because statutes of limitations had expired in either July 2014 or February 2016.
He rejected Trump’s argument that the decision essentially gutted James’ lawsuit, which James has said reflected a series of “continuing wrongs” that she could prove at trial.
The appeals court dismissed one defendant, Trump’s daughter Ivanka, from the case.
Trump also faces a slew of other litigation.
He has pleaded not guilty to charges in four indictments accusing him of trying to overturn his 2020 election, hoarding classified materials, and covering up hush money payments to a porn star.
Trump also faces a January civil trial over damages he owes for defaming a writer who claimed he raped her.
Engoron’s decision does not automatically mean the trial will begin next Monday.
Trump has sued to delay the trial, accusing Engoron and James of ignoring the appeals court order to narrow the case.
He and the other defendants have said this made it impossible to prepare for trial because they did not know which claims they would have to defend against.
The appeals court is expected to rule on that request this week.
Reporting by Karen Freifeld, Jack Queen and Jonathan Stempel in New York;
Editing by Chris Reese and Deepa Babington
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