Manhattan judge to appoint independent monitor for Trump’s real estate company

NEW YORK (AP) — A Manhattan judge said Thursday he would appoint an independent monitor for former President Donald Trump’s real estate empire, restricting his company’s ability to freely enter into deals, sell assets and to change its corporate structure.

Judge Arthur Engoron has ordered the Trump Organization’s outside watchdog as he presides over a trial in which New York Attorney General Letitia James alleges Trump and the company routinely deceived banks and others on the value of prized assets, including golf courses and hotels bearing his name. .

James’ office says the Trump Organization continues to engage in fraud and has taken steps to avoid potential lawsuit penalties, such as incorporating a new entity in Delaware named Trump Organization LLC — nearly identical to the original company name – in September, just before the lawsuit was filed.

Trump sued James in Florida on Wednesday, seeking to prevent him from exercising control over the family trust that controls his business. Trump’s 35-page complaint echoes some claims from his previously dismissed lawsuit against James in federal court in New York, including that his investigation of him is a “political witch hunt.”

Engoron, who has been handling Trump-related cases for more than two years, seemed willing to appoint a monitor or at least grant some oversight of the Trump Organization while James’ trial is ongoing – although he warned that journalists should not “read anything”. in questions he put to the lawyers.

Trump attorney Alina Habba told reporters after Thursday’s arguments that she fully expects Engoron to appoint a monitor, pointing to her controversial history with Trump. Last week, the former president lashed out at the judge on social media, calling him “vicious, biased and mean”.

A woman walks past the Trump Building at 40 Wall Street in New York’s Financial District, January 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Engoron, a Democrat, has repeatedly ruled against Trump while presiding over disputes over subpoenas issued in connection with James’ investigation.

The judge scorned the Republican and fined him $110,000 after he delayed turning over documents, and he forced him to sit for a deposition – testimony in which Trump invoked fifth protection more than 400 times amendment against self-incrimination.

“I didn’t even see the point of talking because we’re going to lose no matter what,” Habba said.

James, a Democrat, is asking for $250 million and a permanent ban on Trump, a Republican, from doing business in the state. In the meantime, she wants an independent monitor to review and approve some of the company’s major business decisions, including any sale or transfer of assets and any potential corporate restructuring.

“Our goal in doing this is not to impact the day-to-day operations of the Trump Organization,” James’ lead attorney Kevin Wallace said. He said the desired oversight would be “limited” and not involve complexities, such as the number of golf rounds or hotel rooms they book in any given year.

“The Trump Organization has a persistent record of disobeying existing court orders,” Wallace said. “It shouldn’t be the job of the court or the attorney general to spend the next year looking over their shoulder, making sure assets aren’t sold or the company isn’t restructured.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a press conference, announcing a fraud prosecution against former President Donald Trump, September 21, 2022, in New York City. (AP/Brittany Newman)

Wallace said James’ office was looking to end “ongoing fraudulent activity within the Trump organization” and wanted to put safeguards in place so the company couldn’t just sell off assets, such as the Trump Tower and an office building at 40 Wall Street, which could potentially be used to pay for a potential lawsuit judgment.

Trump Organization attorney Christopher Kise responded that the company has “no intention” of disposing of those properties, which together he says are worth at least $250 million. The “Trump entities aren’t going anywhere,” he added.

Kise argued that James’ lawsuit is making a lot of noise about common and bona fide disagreements in the real estate industry. If the banks that lent Trump money felt he or the company had acted improperly, they would have spoken, Kise said.

“There’s no problem. There’s no case here,” Kise said. immovable.”

Former President Donald Trump’s motorcade arrives at 28 Liberty for depositions in a civil inquest, Aug. 10, 2022, in New York City. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Engoron disputed at least one aspect of Kise’s reasoning, asking if there really was a “good faith disagreement” when Trump claimed his Trump Tower penthouse was three times its actual size and $200 million worth. more.

As for the new Trump entity that has caused concern in James’s office, Kise said the company – listed in a New York company filing as Trump Organization II – had nothing to do with the ‘dodging potential penalties from James’ lawsuit, but rather ‘consolidating pay issues that have arisen in other settings.

Kise did not provide additional details. The Trump Organization’s payroll practices are among issues raised during the company’s criminal fraud trial in Manhattan, which was halted Tuesday and is expected to resume Monday after a witness tested positive for COVID-19.

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