NEW YORK (AP) — Does a judge’s fraud finding spell the end of Donald Trump ’s real estate empire? The former president seems to think so. He decried Tuesday’s ruling, shifting control of some of his companies to a court-appointed receiver, as the “KILL TRUMP” decision.
But the judge himself isn't so sure, telling Trump's lawyers at a hearing Wednesday that he isn't ready to discuss what the ruling — which strips Trump’s entities of their New York-issued business licenses — will mean for his company and the marquee properties bearing his name.
Judge Arthur Engoron, who will preside over a non-jury trial next week on issues remaining in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ civil lawsuit against Trump, acknowledged that the “contours of the case (have) changed significantly," but declined to elaborate on the real-world impacts of his fraud finding.
Engoron, in a blistering 35-page opinion Tuesday, found that Trump and his company, the Trump Organization, routinely deceived banks, insurers and others by massively overvaluing his assets and exaggerating his net worth on paperwork used in making deals and securing loans.
Trump’s lawyers said they would appeal Engoron’s decision. In a post Wednesday on his Truth Social platform, Trump said: “I have a Deranged, Trump Hating Judge, who RAILROADED this FAKE CASE through a NYS Court at a speed never before seen.”
Trump lawyer Christopher Kise pressed Engoron to clarify whether his ruling meant the businessman/politician would be required simply to close up some corporate entities or if he'd be forced to relinquish some of his most prized assets, as Trump and his allies suggested in their reactions.
As he quizzed the judge, Kise noted that some of the Trump entities being stripped of their business licenses own properties such as Trump Tower and an office building at 40 Wall Street, both in Manhattan.
“Is it the court’s position that those assets are now going to be sold or just going to be managed under the direction of the (receiver)?” Kise asked.
Engoron turned to speak with his principal law clerk, Allison Greenfield, sitting by his side at the bench, before returning to the microphone a few minutes later.
“I’m not prepared to issue a ruling right now but we will take that up in various contexts, I’m sure," Engoron said.
Kise also raised concerns about the scope of the ruling, noting that some limited liability corporations controlled by Trump and other defendants were used to purchase private homes, not skyscrapers or other commercial properties.
“Because they’re owned through LLCs at least under a technical reading of the statute or the order, then those entities would be surrendering their (business) certificates even though they technically don’t have any connection to the proceedings?” Kise said.
Engoron appeared open to working out a compromise on that issue, but did not commit to a specific resolution. Instead, he extended the deadline for the sides to suggest potential receivers to 30 days after saying in his ruling that he wanted names in 10 days.
After the hearing, Kise said he was confident they would get answers eventually, once Engoron appoints a receiver and they start to discuss the parameters of the ruling.
Kise suggested that Barbara Jones, the retired federal judge who's been overseeing the Trump Organization’s operations as a court-appointed monitor in the case, also be named as the receiver because she's already familiar with the company’s inner workings.
Engoron’s ruling, in a phase of the case known as summary judgment, resolved the key claim in James’ lawsuit, but several others remain. He is to decide on those claims and James’ request for $250 million in penalties at a trial starting Oct. 2, though Trump’s lawyers have asked an appeals court for a delay.
Kise raised the possibility of canceling the trial altogether since Engoron had already ruled on the biggest issue, asking: “What’s the point?”
Kevin Wallace, senior enforcement counsel in James' office, said the trial would allow them to pursue conspiracy allegations and introduce evidence that could bolster their case for the full monetary penalty, which James' has said was the estimated worth of benefits derived from the alleged fraud.
Engoron reiterated Wednesday his suggestion that the trial might take three months. James’ office named Trump, his two eldest sons and other Trump Organization executives among 57 potential witnesses on a preliminary list filed in the case on Sept. 8.
Among the findings in Engoron's decision Tuesday was that Trump lied about the size of his Manhattan apartment, claiming his three-story Trump Tower penthouse was nearly three times its actual size and valuing it at $327 million.
Engoron, echoing allegations in James’ lawsuit, also found that Trump consistently overvalued his Mar-a-Lago estate, inflating its value on one financial statement by as much as 2,300%.
In a Truth Social post, Trump remained committed to his lofty Mar-a-Lago price tags, arguing that the “MOST SPECTACULAR PROPERTY” in Palm Beach, Florida, could worth as much as $1.8 billion. That would far exceed even the highest value he listed for Mar-a-Lago on his financial statements, $739 million in 2018.
Engoron, he wrote, “made up this crazy ‘KILL TRUMP’ decision, assigning insanely low values to properties, despite overwhelming evidence.”
Michael R. Sisak, The Associated Press