By Michael R. Sisak - The Associated Press
A judge has ruled that Donald Trump committed fraud for several years "repeatedly" while building the real estate empire that catapulted him to fame and the White House.
Judge Arthur Engoron, who ruled Tuesday on a civil lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, found that the former president and his company misled banks, insurers and others by overvaluing their assets and exaggerating their net worth in the documentation used to close deals and obtain financing.
Former President Donald Tump speaks in Summerville, South Carolina, on Sept. 25, 2023.
The decision, days before the start of a non-jury trial in the attorney general's lawsuit, is the strongest repudiation yet of Trump's cherished image as a wealthy and cunning real estate mogul turned political powerhouse.
Beyond bragging about his fortune, Trump, his company and senior executives repeatedly lied about it in annual financial statements, earning benefits such as favorable loan terms and cheaper insurance premiums, Engoron said.
Those tactics crossed a line and violated the law, said the judge, who rejected Trump's argument that there was a notice in the financial statements that cleared him of any liability.
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Manhattan prosecutors considered pursuing a criminal case for that conduct but declined to do so, leaving James with the option of suing Trump and seeking penalties that may prevent the former president and his family from conducting business in the state.
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Engoron's ruling, which is taking place in a phase of the case called summary trial, responds to James' main assertion in the lawsuit, but six others are still pending.
Engoron must preside over a non-jury trial starting Oct. 2 before deciding on James' pending claims or any other punishment he could impose.
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James is seeking $250 million in penalties and a ban against Trump so he can't conduct business in his home state of New York. The trial may extend until December, the judge said.
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Trump's lawyers had asked Egoron to dismiss the case, which the judge denied. Their argument was that James did not have the legal authority to file a lawsuit because there was no evidence that the public had been affected by Trump's actions. They also claimed that many of the allegations in the lawsuit had exceeded the statute of limitations under the law.