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It's been a long time coming but it finally happened. Donald Trump, several of his businesses and two of his sons have been found liable for fraud by a New York judge for massively inflating the value of their holdings and companies. Is it possible that Trump's pathological lying and grandiose bragging finally caught up with him after all of these years?
The civil fraud case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James appeared so unassailable to Justice Arthur Engoron that he issued a summary judgment on behalf of the state which strips control of some of Trump's businesses from the family and could end up costing the former president as much as $250 million. Engoron found that after examining the facts and the arguments there was no need for a trial to determine that Trump had committed fraud. This ruling amounts to what lawyers call the "corporate death penalty."
Trump's main lawyer in the case, Alina Habba, who travels with him frequently on his campaign plane, was hired by Trump after meeting her at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. She was previously general counsel for a parking lot concern and was known for her representation of former "Real Housewives" cast member Siggy Flicker in a case against Facebook, which she claimed had disabled her account for wishing Melania Trump a happy birthday.
Evidently, Habba's defense of Donald Trump's business empire wasn't convincing to the judge, who indicated that Habba hadn't presented a coherent case but instead had argued that "the documents do not say what they say; that there is no such thing as 'objective' value; and that essentially the Court should not believe its own eyes." Engoron sanctioned each defense lawyer $7,500 for repeatedly using the same arguments that had been ruled invalid. "Defendants' conduct in reiterating these frivolous arguments is egregious," he wrote in judgment. "We are at the point of intentional and blatant disregard of controlling authority and the law of the case." Yikes.
Trump ranted on Truth Social that it was all a Witch Hunt and the judge and the prosecutors are all out to get him. The usual. He insists that he never inflated the value of his company and that, in fact, his valuations are all very low because he doesn't include the greatest value of all, his "brand" which is apparently worth gazillions. Hilariously, in his deposition, cited by the court, Trump defended himself by saying that the valuation of his properties cannot be inflated because he could find a 'buyer from Saudi Arabia' to pay any price he suggests. Now why would that be, I wonder?
NY judge in ruling on Trump organization fraud case:
"He [Trump] 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." pic.twitter.com/x44imKe3ME
— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) September 26, 2023
We knew that Trump was a crook from the Trump University fraud case which Trump settled for $25 million after he won the White House to the grotesque con game his family called the "Trump Foundation," which they used for their own benefit and which was dissolved in a previous civil case they lost. The blatant pay-to-play at the Trump hotel and his various resorts during his presidency was astonishing.
That his sons are caught up in this one is particularly notable since this particular scam has been intergenerational from the start. The blockbuster New York Times exposé of Trump's father's various dubious ploys to shelter his earnings from taxes showed this was a family affair from the time Trump and his siblings were toddlers. This latest case nails Eric and Donald Jr. right along with Trump since they were also "executives" who are legally liable for these fraudulent practices.
Don Jr. took to Twitter to rant about "weaponized Blue State Marxist America," which he does pretty much every day anyway.
If my father tried claiming the property was worth $18 million, he would probably then get charged with trying to underpay his real estate taxes!
They’ve set the game up so it’s always lose/lose in these blue states. If you don’t abide by their narrative they will target you. https://t.co/IZDefUGpHH
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) September 27, 2023
While Eric is apparently a world-class whiner who seems to be throwing his father and brother under the bus:
While everyone can see that this case is egregious, the only thing worse than weaponizing the legal system against a political opponent is unfairly going after their family. Both the Attorney General and the Judge know I had absolutely NOTHING to do with this case. Every single person has testified that my job has always been acquiring, developing and managing properties, not back office functions. The only reason I am collateral damage is because my last name is Trump and I am unwavering in the support of my father, his accomplishments and what he has done for our country, a nation which is now rapidly in decline.
Poor Eric didn't have anything to do with all those "back office functions" like the rest of them. He "acquires, develops and manages properties", you know, the important stuff. I guess that's why he took the 5th over 500 times when they deposed him.
Ivanka, meanwhile, is off the hook for this particular scam because the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court dismissed the charges against her when the attorney general missed a deadline for filing the case against her. She's very lucky. (She was also up to her neck in the Trump pump and dump hustle in which they similarly lied about valuation of their properties to investors and customers alike.)
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The amount that Trump will have to pay will be decided at a trial set to begin next week, presided over by the same judge. Trump's lawyers have already said they will appeal the ruling and they have sued the judge over a separate issue which an appeals court panel will decide this week. If none of that works (and it might, you never know) Trump will be on trial next week. Since the judge has already ruled against Trump, it shouldn't last long.
In a healthy political culture, Donald Trump being held accountable for fraud after lying for years about his wealth would at least put a dent in his reputation as a successful businessman. Sadly, we do not have a healthy political culture so this is unlikely to change anything. Trump has trained his followers to believe that any attempt to hold him accountable, regardless of the facts, even those they can see with their own eyes, are part of a massive conspiracy to destroy him.
That argument obviously didn't work on this judge, who is rational and able to see the facts before him, but the MAGA movement is beyond reason. The more proof that is presented of Donald Trump's corruption and criminality, the more they respect and revere him. But at least the rest of us know that we aren't crazy and that's about the best we can hope for.