With Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and the ex-lead prosecutor investigating Donald Trump’s business dealings reportedly at odds over whether the former president could be found guilty of felony charges, the state’s attorney general now has the best chance to hold the real estate mogul accountable for alleged misdeeds in court.
But AG Tish James faces an uphill battle to prove Trump committed civil fraud by inflating the worth of his real estate holdings, with appraisals inherently subjective, and successful fraud cases related to valuations few and far between. And the extent to which banks and insurers relied on the alleged misrepresentations is not entirely clear, lawyers who reviewed James’ court papers told POLITICO. Still, several noted James has broad powers in prosecuting fraud, and said the misrepresentations she’s alleged, particularly if they were weighed heavily by banks and insurers who did deals with Trump, could open the former president up to liability in the form of significant monetary damages.
“She has her work cut out for her in terms of proving her case. And I think it’s an incredibly unusual case, in the sense that it has gotten so far in being able to take discovery of a former president,” said Joshua Schiller, a partner at Boies Schiller Flexner, who has fought other cases with the state’s attorney general. One of the core questions in a potential lawsuit, he said, would be whether she can prove lenders and other parties relied on the misrepresentations and were swindled as a result. “The defense is probably working on a set of witnesses that can say it wasn’t material to us whether that information was correct or not.”
Marc Needles, co-chair of the valuation law practice of Fox Rothschild LLP, said that if owners, like Trump, put forth a valuation they know is false or knowingly provide inaccurate information to appraisers, “that’s a whole other story, that’s fraud on the part of the owner.”
James, a Democrat, has yet to bring a lawsuit against the Trumps. Instead her office has been in court to obtain discovery in pre-litigation action.
Trump has called the probe politically-motivated and his representatives have said the claims are baseless.
AG spokesperson Delaney Kempner expressed confidence about the office’s claims in a statement. “Thus far, we have uncovered significant evidence that suggests Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organization falsely and fraudulently valued multiple assets and misrepresented those values to financial institutions for economic benefit. Those facts speak for themselves,” Kempner said.
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LAW AND DISORDER — Trump’s fate might rest in her hands. But James’ fraud claims are tough to prove, by POLITICO’s Janaki Chadha: As smoke was still billowing from terrorists steering hijacked airplanes into the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001, Donald Trump made the shocking boast that his nearby skyscraper at 40 Wall St. was once-again the tallest building in downtown Manhattan. The claim wasn’t even true. Neighboring 70 Pine St. actually stretched 25 feet higher. The exaggeration is a black mark on the former president’s bio, but Trump’s penchant for inflating the size — and value — of his properties is now at the center of one of the most-watched legal battles in the nation. It’s also New York’s best chance to hold Trump accountable for alleged misdeeds in court since the Manhattan district attorney’s criminal investigation into his business dealings is now in doubt. A former prosecutor on the case said in his resignation letter made public Wednesday that Trump could have been found “guilty of numerous felony violations.” The prosecutor quit, reportedly because his former boss DA Alvin Bragg did not share that belief and is concerned there isn’t enough evidence to show Trump knowingly manipulated the value of his holdings to enrich himself, according to the New York Times.
SHELTER SKELTER — “Adams Says Encampments of Homeless People Will Be Cleared,” by The New York Times’ Andy Newman, Katie Glueck and Dana Rubinstein: “Mayor Eric Adams said on Friday that his administration was pursuing plans to clear New York City’s streets of makeshift campsites where homeless people live. Mr. Adams, in a brief interview, provided few details about the initiative, which would require considerable manpower and logistical coordination. The most recent official estimate, in January 2021, put the number of people living in parks and on the streets at around 1,100, which was widely seen as an undercount. The mayor also did not specify where the people now living in the encampments would go. Nonetheless, he vowed to accomplish what his predecessors had not in addressing a persistent, multifaceted issue.”
CITY HALL MOVES — Adams pushes Albany for more control over street safety, by POLITICO’s Danielle Muoio Dunn: With mere days left to pass a state budget, Mayor Eric Adams on Friday made an impassioned plea for lawmakers in Albany to give the city control over its streets. In doing so, Adams became the latest voice in a long-standing fight among city leaders and transportation advocates to gain the right for the city to set its own speed limits and install speed cameras. “This is just unbelievable that we are here trying to convince Albany to give us the speed cameras we need that has proven to be successful,” Adams said at a Friday press conference in Brooklyn.
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BIG DEAL — “Landmark Lever House in NYC to see new life with $100M redevelopment,” by New York Post’s Steve Cuozzo: “A $100 million redevelopment is bringing new life — and post-pandemic attention to employees’ needs and concerns — to the iconic 1950s landmark Lever House on Park Avenue between East 53rd and East 54th streets. The project’s centerpiece is an indoor-outdoor, tenants-only hospitality suite on the third floor designed to exploit market demand for wellness and collaborative-work facilities. Lever House joint-venture leaseholders WatermanClark and Brookfield Properties will launch Lever Club, an ambitious, tenants-only lounge and hospitality venue, inside the green-glass tower as part of the redevelopment when the building reopens early next year.”
HOUSEKEEPING — “Major new residential building heading to Harlem,” by Crain’s Eddie Small: “Harlem’s development boom is still going strong, with a new project headed to West 125th Street. Developer Mark Irgang is planning a roughly 144,000-square-foot building at 35 W. 125th St., according to plans recently filed with the city Department of Buildings. The project, located between Fifth Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard, was designed to stand 21 stories and 195 feet tall, with 162 residential units and space on the ground floor for retail and an art gallery, the filing says. Menzak is the architect of record. The total cost of the project was not available. Irgang filed plans with the city in early February to demolish the 2-story, 29-foot-tall commercial building now on the site, indicating plans for a larger development at the address. He did not respond to a request for comment.”
RESTAURANT WOES — “City ordered to rethink Open Restaurants program,” by Crain’s Cara Eisenpress: “Planning for the city’s Open Restaurants program, the set-up that will allow thousands more eateries to offer tables outdoors after the temporary program ends in December, has hit a snag. The piece of zoning text essential to allowing the permanent availability of al fresco tables at eateries is no longer effective, according to Judge Frank Nervo, who ruled Wednesday in state Supreme Court in Manhattan. He said the city did not prepare the necessary environmental impact statement before claiming that the outdoor dining program would not have any significant effect. “The programs have, at a minimum, impacted traffic and noise levels, and may have significantly impacted sanitation,” Nervo wrote. Because the changes could be significant, he said, the city must do the environmental impact studies required under the state’s Environmental Quality Review Act. Nothing will change for restaurants using outdoor space throughout this year.”
— “In Queens, everything is on the table for Hochul’s LaGuardia connection,” by Gothamist’s Max Rivlin-Nadler
— “Zero Irving’s Curtain Wall Nears Completion At 124 East 14th Street In Union Square, Manhattan,” by YIMBY’s Michael Young
— “Deals of the Day: March 25,” by Crain’s Beth Treffeisen