Judge orders Trump to pay $355 million for lying about his wealth in staggering civil fraud ruling

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at his Mar-a-Lago estate, Feb. 16, 2024, in Palm Beach, Fla.
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at his Mar-a-Lago estate, Feb. 16, 2024, in Palm Beach, Fla. Copyright AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
Copyright AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
By Euronews, AP
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Including interests on the penalties, the ruling puts the former US president on the hook for more than €415 million.

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A New York judge ordered Donald Trump on Friday to pay $355 million (€329.4 million) in penalties, finding that the former US president lied about his wealth for years in a sweeping civil fraud verdict that pierces his billionaire image but stops short of putting his real estate empire out of business.

Judge Arthur Engoron’s decision after a trial in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit punishes Trump, his company and executives, including his two eldest sons, for scheming to dupe banks, insurers and others by inflating his wealth on financial statements. It forces a shakeup at the top of his Trump Organization, putting the company under court supervision and curtailing how it does business.

The decision is a staggering setback for the Republican presidential front-runner, the latest and costliest consequence of his recent legal troubles. The magnitude of the verdict on top of penalties in other cases could dramatically dent Trump’s financial resources and damage his identity as a savvy businessman who parlayed his fame as a real estate developer into reality TV stardom and the presidency. He has vowed to appeal and won't have to pay immediately.

Trump’s true punishment could be far costlier because under state law he is also required to pay interest on the penalties, which James said puts him on the hook for a total of more than $450 million (€417.5 million). The amount, which would be paid to the state, will grow until he pays.

The judge made clear, however, that the Trump Organization will continue to operate, backing away from an earlier ruling that would have dissolved Trump’s companies.

Engoron, a Democrat, concluded that Trump and his company were “likely to continue their fraudulent ways” without the penalties and controls he imposed. Engoron concluded that Trump and his co-defendants “failed to accept responsibility” and that experts who testified on his behalf “simply denied reality.”

“This is a venial sin, not a mortal sin,” Engoron wrote in a searing 92-page opinion. “They did not rob a bank at gunpoint. Donald Trump is not Bernard Madoff. Yet, defendants are incapable of admitting the error of their ways."

He said their “complete lack of contrition and remorse borders on pathological” and “the frauds found here leap off the page and shock the conscience."

Trump said the decision was “election inference” and “weaponisation against a political opponent,” complaining to reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida that he was being penalised for “having built a perfect company, great cash, great buildings, great everything.”

James, a Democrat, told reporters “justice has been served” and called the ruling “a tremendous victory for this state, this nation, and for everyone who believes that we all must play by the same rules — even former presidents.”

“Now, Donald Trump is finally facing accountability for his lying, cheating, and staggering fraud. Because no matter how big, rich or powerful you think you are, no one is above the law,” James said.

Trump still owns the Trump Organization, but he put his assets into a revocable trust and relinquished a leadership role when he became president in 2017, putting his sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr. in charge of day-to-day operations. Engoron’s ruling imposes a three-year ban on Trump serving as an officer or director of any New York company and bars his sons for two years, effectively requiring the company to find new leadership, at least temporarily.

The monetary penalties involve what Engoron said were “ill-gotten gains” that Trump attained by making himself seem richer. They include money Trump saved by securing lower loan interest rates and profits from the sale of properties that he might not have been able to develop without that financing.

Eric and Donald Trump Jr. were each ordered to pay $4 million (€3.7 million), their share of profits from the 2022 sale of Trump’s Washington, D.C. hotel.

All told, Trump and his co-defendants owe $364 million (€337.7 million), which James’ office said grows to $464 million (€430.5 million) when interest is included. Weisselberg and another longtime company executive, Jeffrey McConney, were barred from ever holding a corporate finance or leadership role in the state.

Engoron put the Trump Organization under the supervision of a independent monitor for at least three years, extending oversight he ordered after James sued Trump in 2022, and said the company must hire an independent compliance director to ensure that it follows financial reporting obligations and rules.

Engoron wrote that stripping Trump of his companies, as he’d previously ordered, was no longer necessary because the company will be under a “two-tiered oversight” with the independent monitor, retired federal judge Barbara Jones, and the compliance director keeping an eye on any activities that could lead to fraud.

Because it was civil, not criminal, the case did not carry the potential of prison time.

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Engoron issued his decision after a 2½-month trial that Trump turned into a frequent, albeit unorthodox campaign stage. He trekked to court nearly a dozen times, watching testimony, grousing to news cameras outside the courtroom and bristling under oath that he was the victim of a rigged legal system.

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