Updates on three New York cases against former President Trump
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It's been a busy week for former President Donald Trump's lawyers, as well as lawyers for his company, in three different New York City courtrooms. A jury is now hearing evidence in a criminal case against the company. A civil case brought by protesters was settled on the eve of trial in the Bronx. And pursuant to a judge's orders, they say Trump's company has to submit to an outside monitor as part of a $250 million civil action brought by the New York attorney general. Joining us to sort through all of this is NPR's Andrea Bernstein.
ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: What did the judge order?
BERNSTEIN: The ruling came in a sweeping lawsuit brought by Attorney General Letitia James that charges Donald, Ivanka, Eric and Don Jr. with more than a decade's worth of fraudulently valuing its properties, thereby deceiving lenders and cheating tax authorities. In one memorable example, Trump's own triplex in Trump's Tower is 11,000 square feet. But he claimed it was 30,000 square feet, making it about $200 million more valuable. The Trumps deny wrongdoing.
But in a motion last month, the AG said the court should step in and appoint a monitor to make sure the Trumps stop lying about the value of their assets. And Judge Arthur Engoron agreed, giving what he called - given what he called, quote, "the defendant's propensity to engage in persistent fraud." That's a big deal. It means an outsider gets to look at the company's books and records and make sure it's telling the truth. The judge also said the Trumps cannot transfer big assets without notifying the court.
INSKEEP: And how are his lawyers responding?
BERNSTEIN: Well, Trump himself filed a countersuit against the New York attorney general in Florida this week. And in court yesterday, Trump Attorney Charles Kise argued the New York attorney general, Democrat Letitia James, had no business bringing a case like this, that the valuations were a matter of complex negotiation between sophisticated parties and that imposing a monitor, quote, "borders on the nationalization of private enterprise." No word if there will be an appeal, but there have been many brought before.
INSKEEP: OK. We'll wait to see if that appeal comes. But meanwhile, there's this separate criminal trial of Trump's company. How's that going?
BERNSTEIN: So that case is taking place in a building just up the street from the civil courthouse. This one's in the New York criminal courthouse building, and it has seen better days. Think peeling paint off the ceiling, chipped tiles in the bathroom. By contrast, this week in the courtroom, we began to see exhibits of a much more gilded world. Receipts the Manhattan DA has - actual receipts for luxury benefits for top executives, like furniture, carpets, Mercedes leases, apartments, even in one instance, cash were displayed on a large screen in the courtroom. And Trump's former controller, Jeffrey McConney, walked the jury through how he literally deducted the cost of these items from gross salaries. The result was lowered tax payments. And the DA says that's fraud.
INSKEEP: What could be the consequences for that?
BERNSTEIN: So Trump himself isn't charged in this case. His former chief financial officer has pleaded guilty to 15 felonies related to this. Trump's lawyers say it was all on this executive, that he did it for himself. But under New York law, the company is criminally liable if high managerial agents commit crimes. If the company is convicted, it could face $1.6 million in fines and, more significantly, could have trouble entering into some business deals.
INSKEEP: Can you catch us up on one more case here, the settlement in the civil case?
BERNSTEIN: Yes. So a group of protesters were roughed up by Trump security guards outside Trump Tower in 2015, when Trump was running for president for the first time. More than seven years later, as they were picking a jury in the Bronx, where juries tend to be sympathetic to plaintiffs, the case settled for an undisclosed amount.
INSKEEP: Andrea, thanks so much.
BERNSTEIN: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.