New York attorney general seeks higher penalties in Trump fraud trial

New York state lawyers increased their request for penalties Friday in Donald Trump’s civil business fraud trial, while his defense argued that 10-plus weeks of testimony produced no evidence of fraudulent intentions or ill-gotten gains.

Both sides highlighted their takeaways from the trial in court filings ahead of closing arguments, set for Thursday. Trump is expected to attend, though plans could change.

It will be the final chance for state and defense lawyers to make their case in a lawsuit that is consequential for the leading Republican presidential hopeful even while he fights four criminal cases in various courts.

The New York civil case could end up barring him from doing business in the state where he built his real estate empire, and state Attorney General Letitia James is now seeking over $370 million in penalties. The figure emerged in her office’s filing Friday; the state had sought $250 million before the trial but had nudged the number to over $300 million during the proceeding.

James’ lawsuit accuses Trump, his company and key executives of deceiving banks and insurers by vastly inflating his net worth. James argues that Trump got attractive rates on loans and insurance because of the wealth he claimed on his personal “statements of financial condition,” or “SFCs” for short.

The suit alleges that the documents gave exorbitant values for golf courses, hotels, and more, including Trump’s former home in his namesake tower in New York and his current home at the Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.

“The conclusion that defendants intended to defraud when preparing and certifying Trump’s SFCs is inescapable,” Kevin Wallace, a lawyer in James’ office, wrote in a filing Friday. “The myriad deceptive schemes they employed to inflate asset values and conceal facts were so outrageous that they belie innocent explanation.”

The defendants, including his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, deny any wrongdoing.

The former president asserts that his financial statements actually came in billions of dollars low, and that any overestimations — such as valuing his Trump Tower penthouse at nearly three times its actual size — were mere mistakes and made no difference in the overall picture of his fortune.

He also says the documents are essentially legally bulletproof because they said the numbers weren’t audited, among other caveats. Recipients understood them as simply starting points for their own analyses, the defense says.

None of his lenders testified that they wouldn’t have made the loans or would have charged more interest if his financial statements had shown different numbers, defense lawyers wrote in a filing Friday for Trump, his Trump Organization and some executives.

The state “adduced no factual evidence from any witness that the gains were ill-gotten,” attorneys Michael Madaio and Christopher Kise wrote. Nor, they said, was there proof that insurers were ripped off.

Separately, defense lawyers argued that claims against Executive Vice Presidents Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. should be dismissed because they never had “anything more than a peripheral knowledge or involvement in the creation, preparation, or use of” their father’s financial statements.

The sons relied on the work of other Trump Organization executives and an outside accounting firm that prepared those documents, attorneys Clifford Robert and Michael Farina said, echoing the scions’ own testimony.

Their father also took the stand and made a stream of comments in the courthouse hallway. He painted the case as a political maneuver by James, Judge Arthur Engoron and other Democrats, saying they’re abusing the legal system to try to cut off his chances of winning back the White House this year.

The verdict is up to the judge because James brought the case under a state law that doesn’t allow for a jury. Engoron has said he hopes to decide by the end of this month.

He will weigh claims of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records. But he ruled before trial on the lawsuit’s top claim, finding that Trump and other defendants engaged in fraud for years. With that ruling, the judge ordered that a receiver take control of some of the ex-president’s properties, but an appeals court has frozen that order for now.

In addition to penalties of $370 million, plus interest, James wants Trump to be prohibited from doing business in New York.

During the trial, Engoron fined Trump a total of $15,000 after finding that he violated a gag order that barred all trial participants from commenting publicly on the judge’s staff. The order was imposed after Trump maligned the judge’s principal law clerk.

Trump’s lawyers are appealing the gag order.

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