Donald Trump took the stand yesterday in New York State Attorney General Letitia James’s civil fraud case alleging he inflated his assets to appear wealthier and take advantage of lower interest rates and insurance costs. Things got testy during the ex-president’s testimony.
The stakes are high: New York Judge Arthur Engoron already ruled that Trump, his adult sons, and their company are liable for fraud (Trump is appealing). Unlike the criminal cases pending against Trump, this lawsuit has no chance of resulting in jail time, but the trial will determine whether the judge grants James’s request for a $250 million fine and a ban on Trump doing business in New York.
There was plenty of snark and frustration to go around…
- Judge Engoron asked Trump’s lawyer to “control your client,” and later threatened to remove Trump from the stand for refusing to answer questions directly, insulting the judge, and calling the trial “unfair.”
- Trump said he had no involvement in preparing a 2021 financial statement because he was busy at the White House “keeping our country safe,” causing prosecutors to clarify that Trump was not president in 2021.
One point of contention: What are Trump’s properties, including Mar-a-Lago, really worth?
So, how do you appraise Mar-a-Lago?
During his testimony, Trump claimed it was actually undervalued in his company’s financial documents and worth as much as $1.5 billion.
This came after the judge concluded in his ruling that Trump inflated the price by 2,300% because the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser had valued it between $18 million and $37 million. Meanwhile, real estate agents have told news outlets they’d put it between $300 million and $600 million.
Why so many choices? Tax assessors typically value properties much lower than a real estate agent would. Also, because Mar-a-Lago operates as a private club, the assessor appraised it based on its annual net operating income not on potential resale or development value.
Looking ahead…Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who is not a defendant in the case, is set to testify on Wednesday.—CC