New York AG says ‘significant evidence’ uncovered in probe of Trump Organization

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President Donald Trump looks on after giving Alice Marie Johnson, criminal justice reform advocate, a full pardon in the Oval Office of the White House on August 28th, 2020.

Attorney General James Takes Action to Force Donald J. Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump to Comply with Ongoing Investigation Into Trump Organization’s Financial Dealings / PRESS RELEASE:

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today took legal action to compel Donald J. Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump to appear for sworn testimony as part of the office’s ongoing civil investigation into the Trump Organization’s financial dealings. The motion to compel filed today seeks a court order enforcing testimonial subpoenas issued to Donald J. Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump, as well as the production of documents held by Donald J. Trump. As the papers filed today make clear, each of the individuals was directly involved in one or more transactions under review. Earlier this month, the Trumps filed a motion to quash these interviews, and the papers filed today by the Attorney General oppose that motion.

Since moving to compel the testimony of Eric Trump in August 2020, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has collected significant additional evidence indicating that the Trump Organization used fraudulent or misleading asset valuations to obtain a host of economic benefits, including loans, insurance coverage, and tax deductions. While OAG has not yet reached a final decision regarding whether this evidence merits legal action, the grounds for pursuing the investigation are self-evident. The OAG filed today’s motion to get necessary testimony and evidence from high-ranking corporate personnel with close involvement in the events under investigation to determine, among other things, their relevant knowledge about those events.

“For more than two years, the Trump Organization has used delay tactics and litigation in an attempt to thwart a legitimate investigation into its financial dealings,” said Attorney General James. “Thus far in our investigation, we have uncovered significant evidence that suggests Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organization falsely and fraudulently valued multiple assets and misrepresented those values to financial institutions for economic benefit. The Trumps must comply with our lawful subpoenas for documents and testimony because no one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them. We will not be deterred in our efforts to continue this investigation and ensure that no one is above the law.”

Background

As detailed in today’s filings, Attorney General James opened an investigation into Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organization in March 2019, after Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified before Congress that Trump’s annual financial statements inflated the values of Trump’s assets to obtain favorable terms for loans and insurance coverage, while also deflating the value of other assets to reduce real estate taxes.

For more than two years, the Trump Organization has acknowledged OAG’s authority to investigate the matters alleged and has professed cooperation, but has only recently begun to produce the bulk of the documents called for in subpoenas issued as far back as December 2019. While more than a dozen current and former Trump Organization employees have provided sworn testimony, in recent weeks, Donald J. Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump refused to appear to give testimony pursuant to subpoenas, despite their roles in certain transactions and high-ranking positions in the Trump Organization.

Since at least 2004, Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization have prepared an annual “Statement of Financial Condition of Donald J. Trump,” and since 2017, when Mr. Trump became president, these statements have been issued by the Trustees of the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, which is overseen by Donald Trump, Jr. and Allen Weisselberg. These financial statements contain Mr. Trump’s or the Trustees’ assertions of net worth, based principally on asserted values of particular assets minus outstanding debt.

The statements were submitted to counterparties, including financial institutions, other lenders, and insurers in connection with Trump Organization business transactions. The counterparties relied on the statements and additional information provided by the Trump Organization in evaluating Mr. Trump’s financial condition.

The OAG has determined that the Statements of Financial Condition described Mr. Trump’s (or the Trustees of the Revocable Trust’s) valuation process in broad terms and in ways which were often inaccurate or misleading when compared with the supporting data and documentation that the Trump Organization submitted to its accounting firm. Among other things, the statements:

  • Misstated objective facts, like the size of Mr. Trump’s Trump Tower penthouse;
  • Miscategorized assets outside Mr. Trump’s or the Trump Organization’s control as “cash,” thereby overstating his liquidity;
  • Misstated the process by which Mr. Trump or his associates reached valuations, including deviations from generally accepted accounting principles in ways that the statements did not disclose;
  • Failed to use fundamental techniques of valuation, like discounting future revenues and expenses to their present value, or choosing as “comparables” only similar properties in order to impute valuations from public sales data;
  • Misstated the purported involvement of “outside professionals” in reaching the valuations; and
  • Failed to advise that certain valuation amounts were inflated by an undisclosed amount for brand value.

All of the examples described below appeared on official Statements of Financial Condition for Donald J. Trump for a number of years and were used to obtain loans or otherwise state the net worth of Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization.

1) Seven Springs

Seven Springs is a 212-acre property in Westchester County, purchased by the Trump Organization in 1995. In 2004, the Trump Organization valued the property at $80 million; in 2007 they valued it at $200 million; and by 2012, they valued it at $291 million. The principal basis of this last valuation was the contention that the property was zoned for nine luxurious homes worth a supposed $161 million of profit. Two separate, professional appraisers valued the lots that were supposedly going to be developed at mere fractions of the prices used in the Trump Statement of Financial Condition. After receiving the March 2016 appraisal, which valued the property at $56 million, Mr. Trump’s subsequent financial statement was changed in a manner that disguised what would otherwise have appeared as a more than 80 percent drop in the value of Seven Springs (from $291 million to $56 million) by moving the property to a catch-all category where no asset was itemized.

2) Trump Tower Triplex

In that same catch-all category was Mr. Trump’s triplex apartment, which on the same statement was given a value increase of $127 million. The valuations of Mr. Trump’s triplex apartment in Trump Tower since at least 2012 were based on the assertion that the triplex apartment was 30,000 square feet in size. However, the actual size of Mr. Trump’s triplex apartment was 10,996 square feet, and documents confirming that fact were signed by Mr. Trump himself in 2012. Nevertheless, Mr. Trump’s 2015 and 2016 financial statement reported the value of Mr. Trump’s triplex apartment as $327 million, based on the apartment having 30,000 square feet of space multiplied by a certain price per square foot. In testimony to OAG, Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg admitted that the value of Mr. Trump’s apartment was overstated by “give or take” $200 million.

3) Trump International Golf Club Scotland 

This property, which is located in Aberdeen, Scotland, was purchased by the Trump Organization in 2006 for $12.6 million. In 2011, the valuation of Aberdeen used for Mr. Trump’s financial statement was estimated at £75 million or $161 million, however, this valuation appears to have been based on an email prepared to provide information to Forbes magazine for a quote and was not professionally determined. For Mr. Trump’s 2014 financial statement, the Trump Organization valued the entire Aberdeen property at $435.56 million, in part by assuming the right to build 2,500 luxury homes on the property – despite approval to build fewer than 1,500 holiday apartments and golf villas.

4) The Trump Brand

Mr. Trump’s financial statements explicitly state that the statements do not incorporate any brand value. Mr. Trump was personally aware of the fact that his Statements of Financial Condition represented that no brand value was included in the valuations, however, based on evidence that OAG obtained, that representation was false or at least misleading. The financial statements included an undisclosed added brand premium for most of the properties classified as “Club Facilities and Related Real Estate.” From 2013-2014, seven golf club facilities were valued in a manner that included an undisclosed flat 30 percent premium on top of fixed assets for a “fully operational branded facility.” From 2015-2020, the value of those same seven facilities included an undisclosed flat 15 percent premium. The financial institutions that provided loans or insurance for these facilities required that brand value be excluded from the individual’s “net worth.”

5) Trump National Golf Club Westchester

Mr. Trump purchased Trump National Golf Club Westchester for $8.5 million. In his 2011 financial statement, the property was valued at $68.7 million. A portion of that total reflected the value of the initiation fee for 67 unsold memberships, totaling $12.77 million on the assumption that the club was currently “getting $150,000” per membership and that amount would only rise. But the investigation determined that the $150,000 number was false. Many new members paid no deposit at all in 2011, and Trump Organization records showed no members paid an initiation fee in 2012. The valuation also included an undiscounted amount from the sale of 31 mid-rise units that the Trump Organization recognized had been “put on hold.”

6) Trump Park Avenue

Trump Park Avenue is reflected on Mr. Trump’s financial statements from 2011-2020. In these years, the property was reported as representing between $135 million and $350 million of Mr. Trump’s total assets. Evidence obtained by OAG establishes that unsold residential condominium units represented the majority of the reported value (in excess of 95 percent in some years). In 2011, the reported value of the property was $311.6 million with unsold residential units comprising $293.1 million of that value. Evidence obtained by OAG indicates both that the reported values of the unsold residential units of the Trump Park Avenue building were significantly higher than the internal valuations used by the Trump Organization for business planning and failed to account for the fact that many units were rent stabilized. For one apartment, Ivanka Trump held an option to purchase an apartment she was renting for $8.5 million, but it was valued as high as $25 million on Mr. Trump’s financial statements.

7) 40 Wall Street

The Trump Organization owns a “ground lease” at 40 Wall Street, meaning it holds a leasehold interest in the land and buildings on the land, but pays rent to the owner. The OAG has obtained evidence raising questions regarding the true value of the Trump Organization’s leasehold interest in 40 Wall Street as reported on Mr. Trump’s financial statements. Outside appraisals conducted by Cushman & Wakefield in 2010-2012 for Capital One, which held a $160 million mortgage on the building, valued the Trump Organization’s interest in the property between $200 million and $220 million. During the same period, Mr. Trump’s financial statements represented that 40 Wall Street had a valuation of $601.8 million in 2010, $524.7 million in 2011, $527.2 million in 2012, and $530.7 million in 2013 – values between two and three times the value recorded in the three consecutive appraisals

In early 2015, the Trump Organization sought to renegotiate its loan to avoid a $5 million principal payment, citing its $550 million valuation as grounds for the renegotiation. Capital One, which had performed its own valuation in November 2014 determining that 40 Wall Street was worth $257 million, declined to renegotiate. Thereafter, the Trump Organization, under Mr. Weisselberg’s leadership, began working with his son, Jack Weisselberg, a director at Ladder Capital to refinance the $160 million mortgage. Now working for Ladder Capital, the same Cushman & Wakefield team that performed the 2010-2012 appraisals valued the building at $550 million. While OAG has obtained evidence that the 2015 appraisal did not reflect a good-faith assessment of value, using demonstrably incorrect facts and aggressive assumptions, even this inflated value was insufficient for Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump’s financial statements as of June 2015 added almost $200 million to that figure and valued the building at $735.4 million.

Misrepresentations to Financial Institutions

The OAG is investigating the Trump Organization’s representations to banks and insurers and whether those institutions relied on Mr. Trump’s financial statements. The evidence to date indicates that banks and other financial institutions relied on Mr. Trump’s financial statements in considering whether to grant Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization access to credit and coverage. Mr. Trump’s Statements of Financial Condition were submitted to multiple banks and insurers to obtain credit and coverage and to comply with covenants on existing loans that required periodic submission of financial statements.

Misrepresentations to Insurance Providers

Evidence indicates that over a period of years, Allen Weisselberg misrepresented the source of valuations on Mr. Trump’s financial statements in order to obtain favorable terms for insurance coverage on multiple occasions. Mr. Weisselberg repeatedly represented that the valuations listed in Mr. Trump’s personal financial statements were prepared annually by professional appraisal firms, which was false. With respect to nearly all valuations, the Trump Organization did not retain any professional appraisal firm to prepare the valuations of the Trump Organization’s real estate holdings that appeared in Mr. Trump’s financial statements shown to the underwriter. Rather, the valuations were prepared by Trump Organization staff, contrary to what an underwriter was expressly told and believed.

Misrepresentations to the IRS

Evidence indicates that the Trump Organization also submitted fraudulent or misleading valuations to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), specifically related to the Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles and Seven Springs.

Evidence indicates that an appraisal commissioned by the Trump Organization and submitted to the IRS substantially overstated the value of a land donation at the Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles by overstating the speed with which the site could be developed and by failing to value a reduction in affordable housing requirements that the donation enabled. During the preparation of that appraisal, one appraiser wrote that “Trump is fighting for every $1.” The misrepresentations were incorporated into the final valuation arrived at by appraisers, and ultimately submitted to the IRS in connection with a tax deduction Mr. Trump sought on the property.

Evidence indicates that an appraisal commissioned by the Trump Organization also substantially overstated the value of a land donation at Seven Springs. After efforts to develop the Seven Springs property in Westchester were unsuccessful, the Trump Organization granted a conservation easement over 158 acres of the property in 2015.

The OAG has identified evidence that the number of lots relied upon to calculate the value of the conservation easement that the Trump Organization sought on this property was more than double what was permitted by development restrictions imposed by a locality — restrictions that the Trump Organization was long aware of and had agreed to on the record at a town meeting. As a result of these restrictions, the Trump Organization would have been required to reduce the number of potential subdivision lots that could be developed, which on information and belief, would have reduced the value reached by the appraisal by as much as approximately 50 percent. The OAG has also identified evidence suggesting that the development timeline used to calculate the value of the easement donation was inconsistent with applicable disturbance restrictions, and if the actual timeline were utilized, it would have further reduced the value of the appraisal.

Mr. Trump’s accountants have told OAG that the easement deductions at Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles and Seven Springs resulted in several million dollars of benefit to Mr. Trump.

Individuals Who Have Not Sufficiently Answered OAG Subpoenas

Donald J. Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump do not dispute that they were each properly served with subpoenas calling for their testimony. At the outset, Donald J. Trump offered no objection to that portion of his subpoena seeking the production of documents. To the contrary, on December 3, 2021, while leaving open the question of whether he would appear for testimony and objecting to the document return date of December 17, 2021, counsel for Mr. Trump agreed to produce responsive documents in advance of his testimony.

Donald J. Trump

Donald J. Trump is the beneficial owner of the Trump Organization. He had ultimate authority over a wide swath of conduct by the Trump Organization. Through 2016, Mr. Trump took personal responsibility for the accuracy of his financial statements.

Donald Trump, Jr.

Donald Trump, Jr. runs the Trump Organization with Eric Trump. He is also a trustee of the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust and has certified annual financial statements regarding the assets the Trust holds for Donald J. Trump.

Ivanka Trump

Ivanka Trump was the Executive Vice President for Development and Acquisitions of the Trump Organization through at least 2016. Among other responsibilities, Ms. Trump negotiated and secured financing for Trump Organization properties. Until January 2017, Ms. Trump was a primary contact for the Trump Organization’s largest lender, Deutsche Bank.

Today’s motion to compel was submitted under New York state’s Executive Law § 63(12), which gives OAG broad powers to investigate fraud and illegality in the conduct of business.

The OAG has reached no conclusions in this matter, and the investigation remains ongoing.

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