‘Art of the steal’: NY attorney general files $250m lawsuit against Trump and three of his children

New York Attorney General Letitia James has sued former president Donald Trump, his three eldest adult children and a host of companies, organisations and persons associated with his eponymous real estate and licensing business, following a three-year civil investigation into allegations of fraud.

Across more than 200 pages, following interviews with 65 witnesses and reviews of millions of documents, the attorney general alleges that the former president and his business empire falsely inflated the value of his net worth by billions of dollars in an effort to gain tax benefits and other benefits from insurers and financial institutions.

Speaking from her office in New York City on 21 September, Ms James said the twice-impeached ex-president “cheated all of us” by inflating his net worth “to unjustly enrich himself and to cheat the system”.

She added that he did so with the aid of his children – Donald Trump Jr, Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump – as well as ex-Trump Organization CEO Allen Weisselberg and the Trump Organization comptroller.

“This investigation revealed that Donald Trump engaged in years of illegal conduct to inflate his net worth ... to deceive banks and the people of the great state of New York,” she said.

“Claiming you have money that you do not have does not amount to the Art of the Deal, it’s the art of the steal,” Ms James continued, referring to Mr Trump’s most famous book.

She added that his status as a former president should not have any effect on whether he is held to the same standard as anyone else when it comes to following the law.

“There cannot be different rules for different people in this country or in this state,” she said.

Ms James alleges that the Trump Organization and its representatives made more than 200 false and misleading evaluations of its assets over a 10-year period from 2011 to 2021.

She described the multiple “statements of financial condition” prepared by his former accounting firm – at his direction – as “exaggerated, grossly inflated objectively false, and therefore fraudulent, and illegal”.

She said Mr Trump, his family and his companies “should all be held accountable”.

“No one ... is above the law,” she said.

 (New York County Clerk)
(New York County Clerk)
 (New York County Clerk)
(New York County Clerk)

Ms James’s office believes the Trumps committed criminal violations, including falsifying business records and financial statements, insurance fraud, and engaging in a conspiracy to engage in each of those state violations.

She also believes the Trumps violated federal criminal law, and intends to refer those allegations to the US attorney’s office and the Internal Revenue Service; it is unclear whether those referrals have been made, according to a spokesperson for Ms James’s office.

The lawsuit seeks to recover $250m in lost revenue and penalties, as well as a judge’s order that would permanently bar the Trumps from holding any offices with businesses in the state.

It is the result of a three-year probe, launched in the aftermath of Mr Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen offering bombshell congressional testimony about the Trumps’ business in 2019.

In previous statements from her office and in detailed court documents, Ms James alleged a “pattern” by Mr Trump of dubious business practices, including “generally inflating” his assets’ worth with fraudulent valuations of his New York golf course, namesake Manhattan tower and other properties.

The attorney general included descriptions of 23 assets related to Mr Trump and his empire that investigators believe were “grossly and fraudulently inflated” – citing more than 200 examples over 10 years.

“That pattern of fraud and deception … is astounding, inflating assets by whatever means necessary,” Ms James said.

Ms James, who confirmed reporting that her office rejected insufficient attempts to settle the litigation, said she is not willing to negotiate such terms in public but added that her “doors are always open.”

Satellite trucks and news media surrounded a downtown Manhattan office building on Wednesday, as reporters anticipated the announcement of civil litigation against Mr Trump, his family and his businesses – the latest law enforcement response against the former president, who is currently facing criminal investigations by grand juries in multiple jurisidictions.

Mr Trump has frequently inveighed against Ms James and her office in myriad public statements and has characterised her efforts — as well as the efforts of other state and federal law enforcement authorities — as politically motivated investigations meant only to damage him politically and advance Ms James’ own career.

The lawsuit comes just weeks before several of Mr Trump’s companies are set to go on trial for criminal tax law violations in a Manhattan courtroom. Mr Weisselberg, the former Trump Organization CFO, is expected to testify against his employer pursuant to plea agreements he reached to settle criminal tax charges of his own.

Mr Trump, in a post on his own Truth Social account, once again called the case a “witch hunt” and claimed Ms James is pursuing a case against him to promote her political agenda.

“I never thought this case would be brought – until I saw her really bad poll numbers,” he wrote. “She is a failed AG whose lack of talent in the fight against crime is causing record numbers of people and companies to flee New York. Bye, bye!”