Who is Letitia James? What to know about the New York attorney general's fraud case against Trump

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump faced another legal defeat last week after a New York judge ordered him and his business trust to pay $453.5 million in penalties and interest as part of his civil fraud case.

The verdict, launched by New York Attorney General Letitia James comes less than month after a Manhattan federal jury ordered Trump to pay $83.3 million to writer E. Jean Carroll in a defamation case stemming from Carroll's allegation that he sexually assaulted her in the mid-1990s.

In the civil fraud case, New York Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that Trump fraudulently inflated the value of his real estate holdings when applying for loans. James said that if Trump can’t pay off the fine, she is prepared to seize his assets.

"If he does not have funds to pay off the judgment, then we will seek judgment enforcement mechanisms in court, and we will ask the judge to seize his assets," James told ABC News.

Here's a rundown of the case and the attorney general behind it.

Read more: How much is Trump ordered to pay? Graphics show a possible $500 million in penalties

Who is Letitia James?

James was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1958 and she grew up there. She graduated from Lehman College in 1981 and earned her law degree from Howard University in 1987.  She served as a public defender, a counsel for elected officials, and the head of the Brooklyn Regional Office of the New York State Attorney General’s Office, before being elected to the New York City Council. She went on to be elected twice as New York City Public Advocate, becoming the first Black person to hold that office.

In 2018, she made history as the first Black woman to become New York state attorney general. She’s gained a reputation for going after high-profile individuals and organizations, including Trump, former Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the National Rife Association. She was reelected in 2022.

What was James' case about?

James started investigating Trump and his organization in 2019 just as she was sworn in as attorney general.

In September 2022, she filed a lawsuit against Trump, his three oldest children (Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr.) and senior executives at the organization alleging that the former president inflated his net worth by billions to induce banks to lend money to the Trump Organization “on more favorable terms" and to gain tax benefits, among other reasons, according to a press release from her office. 

An appeals court dismissed Ivanka Trump from the case in June, saying that too much time had passed since her direct involvement with the Trump Organization.

Before the trial began, New York Judge Arthur Engoron issued a partial ruling in September last year that Trump and other defendants in the case had fraudulently inflated the value of billions of dollars in assets, and he said that certain entities tied to them will lose their New York business certificates – a finding Trump called “the corporate death penalty.”

The judge also imposed sanctions on Trump’s defense attorneys for repeatedly advancing "bogus arguments," such as the defense notion that square footage is subjective.

The trial addressed other allegations made by James, including that Trump, his sons and Trump Organization executives falsified corporate financial statements and committed insurance fraud. Though James originally sought $250 million from Trump and his company, she raised the penalty to $370 million in January.

What was in the judge's ruling?

Engoron ultimately found Trump and his Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust liable for $354.9 million, his sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. liable for $4 million each and former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg for $1 million − for a total of $364 million in penalties.

He also ordered Trump and his trust to pay interest in damages. The total with interest that Trump owes is $453.5 million and the total for all the defendants is $463.9, according to the attorney general’s office.

Engoran prohibited Trump from serving as an officer or director of any New York corporation or legal entity for three years, and he prohibited Trump’s sons for two years. In his 92-page ruling, Engoron wrote that "the frauds found here leap off the page and shock the conscience.”

“Their complete lack of contrition and remorse borders on pathological,” Engoron wrote. “Defendants did not commit murder or arson. 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.”

Trump is expected to appeal the ruling. He has claimed that the New York case is a "witch hunt" and that the ruling was a "total sham" on Truth Social.

James said during a press conference in 2022 that her investigation into Trump “only started after Michael Cohen, his former lawyer, testified before Congress about this conduct.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Letitia James beat Donald Trump in a civil fraud case. What to know