The New York attorney general's office told a court late on Tuesday that its investigators had uncovered evidence that former President Donald Trump's company used "fraudulent or misleading" asset valuations to get loans and tax benefits.
The court filing said state authorities haven't yet decided whether to bring a civil lawsuit in connection with the allegations, but that investigators need to question Trump and his two eldest children as part of the probe.
Trump and his lawyers claim the investigation is politically motivated.
In the court documents, Attorney General Letitia James' office gave its most detailed accounting yet of a long-running investigation of allegations that Trump's company exaggerated the value of assets to get favourable loan terms, or misstated what land was worth to slash its tax burden.
"The Trump Organization," it said, "has overstated the value of land donations made in New York and California on paperwork submitted to the IRS to justify several million dollars in tax deductions".
The company misreported the size of Trump's Manhattan penthouse, saying it was nearly three times its actual size -- a difference in value of about €176 million, James' office said, citing deposition testimony from Trump's longtime financial chief Allen Weisselberg, who was charged last year with tax fraud in a parallel criminal investigation.
James' office detailed its findings in a court motion seeking to force Trump, his daughter Ivanka Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. to comply with subpoenas seeking their testimony.
Investigators, the court papers explained, had "developed 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."
Trump's legal team has sought to block the subpoenas, calling them "an unprecedented and unconstitutional manoeuvre."
They say James is improperly attempting to obtain testimony that could be used in the parallel criminal investigation, being overseen by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
Trump sued James in federal court last month, seeking to put an end to her investigation.
In the suit, his lawyers claimed the attorney general, a Democrat, had violated the Republican’s constitutional rights in a "thinly-veiled effort to publicly malign Trump and his associates."
In the past, the Republican ex-president has decried James' investigation and Bragg's probe as part of a "witch hunt".
In a statement late on Tuesday, James' office said that it hasn't decided whether to pursue legal action, but said the evidence gathered so far shows the investigation should proceed unimpeded.
"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," James added.
"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."
Although James' civil investigation is separate from the criminal investigation, her office has been involved in both, dispatching several lawyers to work side-by-side with prosecutors from the Manhattan D.A.'s office.
James' office said that under state law, it could seek "a broad range of remedies" against companies found to have committed commercial fraud, "including revoking a license to conduct business within the state, moving to have an officer or director removed from the board of directors, and restitution and disgorgement of ill-gotten gains".
In the court papers, James' office said evidence shows that Trump’s company:
- Listed his Seven Springs estate north of New York City as being worth €256 million, based on the dubious assumption that it could reap €142 million from building nine luxury homes.
- Added a "brand premium" of 15% to 30% to the value of some properties because they carried the Trump name, despite financial statements explicitly stating they didn't incorporate brand value.
- Inflated the value of a suburban New York golf club by millions of dollars by counting fees for memberships that weren’t sold or were never paid.
- Valued a Park Avenue condominium tower at €308 million, based on proceeds it could reap from unsold units, even though many of those apartments were likely to sell for less because they were covered by rent stabilisation laws.
- Valued an apartment being rented to Ivanka Trump at as high as €22 million, even though she had an option to buy it for €7.4 million.
- Said in documents that its stake in an office building, 40 Wall Street, was worth €463 million to €530 million -- between two to three times the estimate reached by appraisers working for the lender Capital One.
One judge has previously sided with James on an earlier request to question another Trump son, Trump Organization executive Eric Trump, who ultimately sat for a deposition but declined to answer some questions.
Last year, the Manhattan district attorney brought tax fraud charges against the Trump Organization and Weisselberg, its longtime chief financial officer.
Weisselberg pleaded not guilty to charges alleging he and the company evaded taxes on lucrative fringe benefits paid to executives.
Both investigations are at least partly related to allegations made in news reports and by Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, that Trump had a history of misrepresenting the value of assets.
The disclosures about the attorney general's investigation came the same day as Trump ally Rudy Giuliani and other members of the legal team that had sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election were subpoenaed by a House committee investigating the U.S. Capitol insurrection.