Appellate judge refuses to halt Trump's $454 million fraud penalty while he appeals

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NEW YORK (AP) — A New York appellate judge on Wednesday refused to halt collection of Donald Trump’s $454 million civil fraud penalty while he appeals, leaving the former president less than a month to pay the staggering sum or secure a bond covering the full amount he owes.

Judge Anil Singh of the state’s mid-level appeals court rejected Trump's offer of a $100 million bond, though he did give Trump leeway that could help him secure the necessary bond before New York Attorney General Letitia James seeks to enforce the judgment starting March 25.

Singh granted a stay pausing part of Judge Arthur Engoron’s Feb. 16 verdict that barred Trump, his company and co-defendants from borrowing money from New York financial institutions. The Republican presidential front-runner’s lawyers had told the appellate court earlier Wednesday that the lending ban had made it impossible for him to secure a bond for the full amount.

Trump’s lawyers warned he may need to sell some properties to cover the penalty and would have no way of getting them back if he is successful in his appeal. State lawyers said those disclosures suggested Trump — who has more than a half-billion dollars in pending court debt — was having trouble coming up with enough cash to foot the bill. The penalty is increasing by nearly $112,000 each day because of interest and will eclipse $455 million on Saturday.

Trump’s lawyers proposed their smaller bond amount in court papers asking the appellate court for an order preventing James’ office from enforcing the judgment while his appeal plays out. Singh, sitting in the Appellate Division of the state’s trial court, ruled after an emergency hearing Wednesday.

Singh's decision is temporary. A five-judge appellate panel will consider Trump’s request on an expedited basis, with a ruling expected in a few weeks. State lawyers must submit paperwork by March 11. Trump's lawyers have until March 18 to respond.

In all, Trump and his co-defendants owe more than $465 million to the state. They have until March 25 to secure a stay — a legal mechanism pausing collection while he appeals the underlying verdict — before they are forced to pay the penalty or risk having assets seized. Posting a bond in the full amount would trigger an automatic stay.

“The exorbitant and punitive amount of the judgment coupled with an unlawful and unconstitutional blanket prohibition on lending transactions would make it impossible to secure and post a complete bond,” Trump lawyers Clifford Robert, Alina Habba and Michael Farina wrote in court papers detailing the $100 million bond offer.

James' office opposed Trump's plan, saying his lawyers have all but conceded he has “insufficient liquid assets to satisfy the judgment.”

“These are precisely the circumstances for which a full bond or deposit is necessary,” Senior Assistant Solicitor General Dennis Fan wrote, saying Trump's offer would leave James' office and the state “with substantial shortfalls” if the verdict is upheld.

"A prevailing plaintiff is entitled to have her award secured, and defendants have never demonstrated that Mr. Trump’s liquid assets could satisfy the full amount of the judgment," Fan wrote.

James, a Democrat, has said that she will seek to seize some of Trump's assets if he's unable to pay the judgment.

Engoron found that Trump, his company and top executives, including his sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr., schemed for years to deceive banks and insurers by inflating his wealth on financial statements used to secure loans and make deals.

Paperwork making the judgment official was filed on Feb. 23. That started a 30-day window for Trump to pay up or file an appeal and seek a stay.

Also Wednesday, white powder was found in an envelope addressed to Engoron at his Manhattan courthouse. Officials said preliminary testing showed it was negative for hazardous substances and no injuries were reported.

Trump filed his appeal on Monday. In their notices of appeal, his lawyers said they want the appellate court to decide whether Engoron “committed errors of law and/or fact” and whether he abused his discretion or “acted in excess” of his jurisdiction.

Trump wasn’t required to pay his penalty or post a bond in order to appeal, and filing the appeal did not automatically halt enforcement of the judgment.

Trump would receive an automatic stay if he were to put up money, assets or an appeal bond covering what he owes. He also had the option to ask the appeals court to grant a stay with a bond for a lower amount — a gambit rejected Wednesday.

Trump's lawyers argued that his vast real estate assets and oversight mandated by Engoron's ruling, including supervision of his company by an independent monitor, “would alone be sufficient to adequately secure any judgment affirmed.”

The $100 million bond, they said, “would simply serve as further security.”

Trump’s lawyers did not ask to pause the monitor’s oversight, but Singh did halt some other sanctions affecting the Trump Organization, at least temporarily.

The appellate judge paused Engoron's two-year ban on Eric and Donald Trump Jr. holding executive positions in New York corporations, meaning they can continue running the company. He also paused a similar three-year ban that applied to Trump, but said the company must move forward with hiring an independent compliance director to ensure it follows financial reporting obligations and rules.

Trump maintains that he is worth several billion dollars and testified last year that he had about $400 million in cash, in addition to properties and other investments, but his legal bills are piling up.

In all, Trump has at least $543.4 million in personal legal liabilities from Engoron's ruling and two other civil court judgments in the last year.

In January, a jury ordered Trump to pay $83.3 million to writer E. Jean Carroll for defaming her after she accused him in 2019 of sexually assaulting her in the 1990s. Trump was also ordered to pay Carroll $5 million a jury awarded Carroll in a related trial last year. He denies the allegations.

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