(NEW YORK) — Former President Donald Trump is on trial in New York in a $250 million civil lawsuit that could alter the personal fortune and real estate empire that helped propel Trump to the White House.
Trump, his sons Eric Trump and and Donald Trump Jr., and other top Trump Organization executives are accused by New York Attorney General Letitia James of engaging in a decade-long scheme in which they used “numerous acts of fraud and misrepresentation” to inflate Trump’s net worth in order get more favorable loan terms. The trial comes after the judge in the case ruled in a partial summary judgment that Trump had submitted “fraudulent valuations” for his assets, leaving the trial to determine additional actions and what penalty, if any, the defendants should receive.
The former president has denied all wrongdoing and his attorneys have argued that Trump’s alleged inflated valuations were a product of his business skill.
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:
Dec 05, 5:04 PM EST
Defense expert quotes John Lennon, compares Trump to MLK
Prior to his brief cross-examination, real estate valuation expert Lawrence Moens quoted John Lennon’s “Imagine” and compared Donald Trump to Martin Luther King Jr. at the conclusion of his direct testimony.
“You may say I am a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” Moens said, quoting the “Imagine” lyrics before comparing Trump to Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr.
“He’s a dreamer for sure. If you have a dream and are a great American, I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” Moens said of Trump, whose Mar-a-Lago estate he praised as “something breathtaking” and “amazing to see.”
Moens’ cellphone went off during his testimony, and he briefly interrupted his direct examination to answer a call.
“I’ll call you right back … love you,” Moens said in a quiet tone as Judge Engoron watched in disbelief.
Moen apologized to the judge, explaining that the call was from his elderly father.
Court was adjourned for the day after Moens stepped off the witness stand.
Dec 05, 4:45 PM EST
Mar-a-Lago valuation expert is also Mar-a-Lago member
During a short cross-examination of the defense’s real estate valuation expert, Lawrence Moens, state attorney Kevin Wallace attempted to highlight flaws in Moens’ analysis that valued Mar-a-Lago at $1.2 billion in 2021.
Wallace noted that Moens’ analysis added over $100 million in membership dues to the value of the property, while Trump’s own statements of financial conduction didn’t include the membership fees since they’re refundable.
“Some get paid back, and some are nonrefundable,” Moens said in response. “I don’t know what their methodology is in those numbers.”
Wallace also asked if Moens had a membership in the club he had been paid to value.
“Are you a member at the club?” Wallace asked.
“I am,” Moens said, adding that he joined in 1995 or 1996.
“I don’t go too often. I don’t like clubs,” he said.
Moens described his process for valuing properties as comparable to a baker making a cake by taste, rather than a recipe. By his own admission, the process was not replicable or scientific.
“You’re not running a process that is recreatable … is that fair?” Wallace asked.
“That’s fair,” Moens said.
Like during his direct examination, Moens appeared confident and playful on the stand, even taking a job at the profession of a colleague mentioned in an email.
“I think he is still a liar — I mean a lawyer,” Moens said. “Sorry, I apologize, it was really low.”
Dec 05, 3:51 PM EST
Eric Trump will not be called as defense witness
Defense attorney Clifford Robert said the defense team was able to “streamline” their case and cut Eric Trump from their witness list.
After being called to the stand by the state last month, Eric Trump had been scheduled to testify for the defense on Wednesday, but now he will not appear.
Trump lawyer Chris Kise also requested that Judge Engoron postpone Donald Trump’s testimony until the New York Court of Appeals rules on Trump’s appeal of the case’s gag order.
“He is not capable of fully testifying because he is subject to the gag order,” Kise said.
Engoron flatly denied the request to delay Trump’s testimony, which is scheduled for Monday.
“Absolutely not. No way, no how. It’s a nonstarter,” Engoron said. “If he is going to testify, it’ll be Monday, and that’s that.”
Dec 05, 3:03 PM EST
Defense expert says Mar-a-Lago was worth $1.2 billion
Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club was worth more than $1.2 billion in 2021 — roughly double the value listed in Trump’s statement of financial condition — according to defense expert Lawrence Moens.
Describing Mar-a-Lago as a castle nestled on 17.6 acres of waterfront property, Moens said he determined the value by considering nearby properties and adding the total value of the club’s 500 memberships, which in 2021 cost $350,000 each.
Between 2011 and 2021, Moens’ analysis found that Trump undervalued Mar-a-Lago in his statements of financial condition — but his analysis appeared to be based on Trump being able to sell the property to an individual to use it as a private residence, which the New York attorney general says Trump is prohibited from doing based on a 2002 deed he signed that would “forever extinguish their right to develop or use the Property for any purpose other than club use.”
Judge Engoron only qualified Moens as an expert on the value of residential real estate.
Moens spoke with confidence about his ability to value real estate in Palm Beach, saying that he has sold billions of dollars of real estate since his first sale as a broker in 1982. Asked if any broker has sold more Palm Beach real estate than he has, Moens replied, “They don’t exist.”
“I am on the front lines everyday of selling properties, and I have a pretty good handle of what is going on currently in the market,” Moens said.
He later added, “My numbers are usually right.”
Moens also put together a seven-minute promotional video about Mar-a-Lago, which was played during his testimony. Set to relaxing music, the video included high-resolution drone shots and dramatic panning shots of the property’s amenities. After the video played, Moens highlighted details such as hand-carved stones, gold decorations that cost millions to construct, and other details that required years of work from tradesmen.
“I invited the attorney general’s office to come see it anytime. The offer still stands,” Moens said. “I will make sure he is not there when you come,” he said of Trump.
Engoron appeared attentive to Moen’s testimony — but once Moens left the courtroom, he indicated that he wasn’t as concerned about Mar-a-Lago’s specific value as he was about whether it was misrepresented.
“I see this case about the documents — whether the defendants used false documents when transacting business,” Engoron said. “I am not trying to figure out what the value is … I don’t necessarily consider it relevant.”
Dec 05, 12:31 PM EST
Mar-a-Lago would be residence if club was abandoned, expert says
Defense expert John Shubin attempted to explain that a 1993 agreement preserved Donald Trump’s right to sell his Mar-a-Lago social club as a private residence.
The testimony came after Judge Engoron prevented Shubin from sharing his own conclusion about whether Mar-a-Lago was a residence, leading Shubin to read into the record several documents involving the issue.
Shubin suggested that a 1993 agreement between Trump and the town of Palm Beach included a provision that Trump’s property would revert from a social club to Trump’s private residence if the club was ever abandoned, despite Trump’s 2002 deed restricting the property’s use to a social club.
Shubin also read into the record documents related to a 2021 Town of Palm Beach town meeting concerning whether Trump could continue to live at Mar-a-Lago as his residence.
“In sum, it is argued that Mar-a-Lago is either a private residence or a club, but cannot be both,” Palm Beach Town Attorney John C. Randolph wrote in a report read by Shubin.
“If he is a bona fide employee of the Club, absent a specific restriction prohibiting former President Trump from residing at the club, it appears the Zoning Code permits him to reside at the Club,” Randolph’s report concluded.
According to Shubin, no action was taken by the town after the meeting, suggesting Town officials concluded that Trump had the right to use the club as a residence.
New York Attorney General Letitia James has accused Trump of valuing the property as a residence worth upwards of half a billion dollars in Trump’s financial statements, while treating it as social club worth between $18 million and $28 million for tax purposes.
Dec 05, 11:03 AM EST
‘No prohibition’ on using Mar-a-Lago as residence, expert says
Introduced as an expert on land use, planning, entitlements and zoning, a witness for the defense immediately pushed back on New York Attorney General Letitia James’ chief argument that Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property was restricted to use as a social club — a claim that Judge Engoron called the “ultimate issue on Mar-a-Lago.”
“There is absolutely no prohibition on the use of Mar-a-Lago as a single-family residence,” said defense witness John Shubin.
Engoron barred Shubin from testifying about legal conclusions and immediately sustained an objection from the state regarding the testimony.
“It absolutely is a legal conclusion,” Engoron said, prompting defense lawyer Clifford Robert to unsuccessfully try to rephrase his question.
“Why don’t we just look through the documents and run backwards?” defense lawyer Chris Kise suggested.
Shubin’s testimony runs contrary to evidence presented by state lawyers that Trump signed a 2002 deed that surrendered his right to develop the property “for any purpose other than club use.”
Dec 05, 9:36 AM EST
Defense focusing on value of Mar-a-Lago
Donald Trump’s lawyers plan to call two experts, Lawrence Moens and John Shubin, to testify on Trump’s valuation of his Mar-a-Lago property in Palm Beach, Florida.
Moens is a well-known real estate broker in Palm Beach, and Shubin is an expert on deeds and land restrictions.
The value of the property has been bitterly contested by Trump’s lawyers since the start of the trial, after Judge Arthur Engoron, in his pretrial partial summary judgment determined that Trump overvalued the property by at least 2,300%. When Trump testified in the trial in November, he repeatedly lashed out at Engoron for what he called a “crazy” assessment of the property.
“He said in his statement that Mar-a-Lago is worth $18 million and it’s worth 50 times to 100 times more than that, and everybody knows it. And everybody is watching this case. He called me a fraud and he didn’t know anything about me,” Trump said on the stand.
According to evidence shown at trial, Trump agreed in a 2002 deed to “forever extinguish [his] right to develop or use the Property for any purpose other than club use.” While Trump Organization executives were aware of the limited use of the property, they allegedly valued the property as a residence in Trump’s financial statements while treating it as a social club for tax purposes, according to New York Attorney General Letitia James.
In Trump’s statements of financial condition, he valued the property between $426 million and $612 million, despite a local tax assessor appraising the market value of the property between $18 and $27 million. Engoron, in his summary judgment ruling, wrote that James had proven that Trump was liable for a false valuation of the property.
Trump has repeatedly argued that Engoron misunderstood the purpose of a tax assessment, going as far as to call Engoron’s finding “fraud.”
“Are you paying taxes on an $18 million valuation of Mar-a-Lago or $1.5 billion?” state attorney Kevin Wallace asked Trump during his direct examination.
“You know that assessments are totally different from the valuation of property,” Trump responded.
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