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A $355 million penalty and business ban: Takeaways from Trump’s civil fraud verdict

In World
February 17, 2024

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump suffered a big blow Friday as a New York judge ordered the former president and his companies to pay $355 million in penalties for what the judge described as a scheme to deceive banks and insurers by exaggerating his wealth on his annual financial statements.

The stunning ruling adds to Trump’s legal woes as he prepares to defend himself at trial against criminal charges in four cases while also vying for the Republican presidential nomination. His lawyers said they would appeal.

Trump and his sons, who serve as top executives of the family’s Trump Organization, denied any wrongdoing and characterized the case brought by Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James as politically motivated.

The former president posted, as he often has in relation to his cases, “Election Interference. Witch Hunt,” in all-capital letters.

Trump attorney Christopher Kise said the decision from Judge Arthur Engoron could “cause irreparable damage to both the business community and the rule of law in our country” if not overturned.

Attorney General James, meanwhile, said it was a “tremendous victory for this state, this nation, and for everyone who believes that we all must play by the same rules — even former presidents.”

Here’s a look at some of the major takeaways from the judge’s ruling:

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TRUMP BARRED

In addition to the huge financial penalty for Trump and his businesses, Engoron barred the former president from serving as an officer or director of any New York corporation for three years. The ruling also prohibits Trump from getting loans from banks registered in the state for three years.

The judge wrote in his ruling that the “frauds found here leap off the page and shock the conscience,” adding that Trump and his co-defendants were likely to continue their “fraudulent ways” without the serious consequences and controls he imposed.

Trump had argued the financial documents in question actually understated his net worth and came with caveats that should shield him from liability. But his testimony during the more than 2 1/2 month trial appeared to do little to help his case with the judge.

Engeron wrote that Trump’s and his co-defendants’ “complete lack of remorse borders on pathological,” noting that the former president testified that he doesn’t believe the Trump Organization needs to make any changes going forward. The judge also wrote that Trump on the witness stand “rarely responded to questions asked” and “frequently interjected long, irrelevant speeches on issues far beyond the scope of the trial.”

“His refusal to answer the questions directly, or in some cases, at all, severely compromised his credibility,” Engoron wrote.

THE BUSINESS EMPIRE

The verdict, if upheld on appeal, stands to roil the C-suite at the Trump Organization. Engoron barred company Executive Vice Presidents Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump from being officers of New York companies for two years. Their father doesn’t currently have a formal leadership position at the company.

But Trump’s businesses also got a bit of a reprieve in Friday’s decision.

Before the trial, the judge ruled that Trump engaged in years of fraud with his financial statements. At that point, the judge ordered some of Trump’s companies to be removed from his control and dissolved. An appeals court put that decision on hold months ago.

On Friday, the judge backed off the earlier call for rescinding the companies’ business licenses — but left the door open for watchdogs to do so, if they see fit.

One of those watchdogs is a retired federal judge whom Engoron appointed last fall as an independent monitor for the Trump Organization. Friday’s verdict also adds an “independent director of compliance,” to be appointed by the monitor.

Given their oversight, “cancellation of the business licenses is no longer necessary,” Engoron wrote. But he said “the restructuring and potential dissolution” of any the companies would be “subject to individual review” by the compliance director, with input from the monitor.

DON JR. AND ERIC

Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump were each ordered to pay $4 million. In his ruling, Engoron characterized portions of Donald Trump Jr.’s testimony as “entirely unbelievable” and described Eric Trump’s credibility as “severely damaged” by his claim that he was not aware of his father’s role in compiling the organization’s financial statements.

Eric Trump testified at trial that he relied on accountants and lawyers to assure the accuracy of the financial documents at the heart of the case, while Donald Trump Jr. said he never worked on his father’s financial statements.

After the ruling, Donald Trump Jr. posted on X: “We’ve reached the point where your political beliefs combined with what venue your case is heard are the primary determinants of the outcome; not the facts of the case!”

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Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press reporters Michael R. Sisak and Jake Offenhartz contributed from New York.

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