WASHINGTON (AP) — A judge’s ruling that Donald Trump committed fraud as he built his real-estate empire tarnishes the former president’s image as a business titan and could strip him of his authority to make major decisions about the future of his marquee properties in his home state.
The Tuesday order rescinds business licenses as punishment, which could make it difficult or impossible for some of Trump’s companies to operate in New York if not successfully appealed.
Trump’s attorney vowed to appeal, calling the decision “un-American” and part of a campaign to thwart his second bid for the presidency.
Here are some of the key points of the case, and what happens next:
Trump and his company massively overvalued his assets, creating “a fantasy world” on the financial statements he gave to banks and others, Judge Arthur Engoron found in a lawsuit brought by the New York attorney general.
Trump’s Florida Mar-a-Lago club, for example, was overvalued on one financial statement by as much as 2,300%, the judge found.
The former president also lied about the size of his Trump Tower penthouse apartment, claiming it was nearly three times its actual size and worth $327 million, according to the ruling.
That discrepancy from a real estate developer describing his own longtime home “can only be considered fraud,” the judge wrote.
The exaggerated picture of Trump’s wealth could have gotten him more favorable loan terms or lowered insurance costs, the attorney general has argued.
The judge rejected Trump’s contention that a disclaimer on the financial statements absolved him of any responsibility to verify they were truthful.
Under the ruling, limited-liability companies that control some of his key properties, such as 40 Wall Street, will be “dissolved” and authority over how to run them handed over to receivers.
The judge’s order, if not successfully appealed, could mean Trump would no longer have any say in who to hire or fire, who to rent office space to, whether to pay back loans or take on new ones, essentially make any decision.
Lisa Renee Pomerantz, a lawyer in Bohemia, New York, who has helped businesses establish LLCs in the state, said canceling certificates is a significant order because you can’t operate without them.
“Their right to conduct business has been revoked,” Pomerantz said. “He’s just lost control of these entities.”
Importantly, the ruling also removes one of the bedrock protections of business suggested by the words “limited liability” themselves: Forcing lenders and other creditors, like victors in a legal judgment, to only go after assets and cash held by the business, not the owner’s stock and cash and other holdings.
Engoron tabled a discussion of whether just a step was required by his order when asked by Trump’s lawyers Wednesday, responding: “I’m not prepared to issue a ruling right now.”
What is clear, though, is that it is unusual for such valuable LLCs containing office buildings and other properties to lose business licenses, so trustees might not be inclined to make such a drastic move.
And they’re unlikely to feel pressure to sell from lenders if they are still getting paid. Sorting out who gets what from the proceeds of a sale would be a “logistical nightmare” if other claimants to Trump properties come forth, Thomas said. That group could include the attorney general herself if she wins on her other counts and Trump has to pay a fine.
If the trustees do decide to sell, Trump will get the cash from whatever is left after paying creditors.
The Trump Organization owes $100 million on Trump Tower. Lenders to 40 Wall Street, Trump’s most valuable skyscraper, were owed more than $125 million earlier this year.
The judge will also weigh a possible $250 million in penalties and some remaining claims in a non-jury trial slated to start Oct. 2
Still, the ruling on one count during what’s known as the summary judgment phase could prove the most significant outcome of the case, said Will Thomas, an assistant professor of business law at the University of Michigan.
“This first count, even though it is easier in some respects from the other counts, it lets one of the biggest remedies kick in: ‘We’re going to stop you from doing business,’” Thomas said. “This is one of the worst outcomes you can get.”
Barring a successful appeal, Thomas said he doesn’t see how the Trump Organization can avoid losing control of his LLCs containing entities such as 40 Wall Street, Trump Tower and an estate outside New York City called Seven Springs. One strategy, establishing new LLCs in another state, is nearly impossible with legal claims such as a lien by a creditor or, in this case, a judge’s ruling.
“If someone is coming after your house, you can’t sell it to me for $1 and have me sell it back to you after your creditor goes away,” Thomas said. “You’re going to run into what’s called fraudulent transfer.”
In fact, Trump was accused by the attorney general of already trying to do that when he set up a Delaware company last year. A Trump lawyer denied any improper intention with the move, but Engoron was worried enough to appoint an independent monitor, Barbara Jones, to watch over Trump’s company, a role she retains under Tuesday’s ruling.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, filed the civil lawsuit against Trump and the Trump Organization a year ago. It accused them of padding his bottom line by billions of dollars by routinely inflating the value of assets including skyscrapers, golf courses and the Mar-a-Lago estate. It came after Manhattan prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges over the same conduct.
Trump’s lawyers had asked the judge to throw out the case, arguing that there wasn’t any evidence the public was harmed and many of the allegations in the lawsuit were barred by the statute of limitations.
In a series of statements on his Truth Social site, Trump insisted his company had “done a magnificent job” and the decision “horrible and un-American.”
His son Eric Trump said his father’s claims about Mar-a-Lago were correct, and the property is “speculated to be worth well over a billion dollars,” according to a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Trump’s lawyer called the decision an attempt to “seize control of private property.”
This case is one of several faced by Trump, who has been criminally indicted four times in the last six months. He’s accused in Georgia and Washington, D.C. of plotting to overturn his 2020 election loss, of hoarding classified documents at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, and in Manhattan of falsifying business records related to hush money paid on his behalf.
The Trump Organization, meanwhile, was fined $1.6 million in an unrelated case after being convicted of tax fraud. James’s office has also previously sued Trump for misusing charitable funds, resulting in an order to give $2 million to charity as his own foundation was shut down.
Condon reported from New York.
The story has been corrected to reflect that lawyer Lisa Pomerantz’s middle name is Renee, not Renne.