- New York AG Letitia James said Mar-a-Lago was part of Trump’s alleged multi-year fraud scheme.
- Trump claimed Mar-a-Lago was worth $739 million, nearly 10 times its actual value of $75 million, James said.
- James said Trump’s assessment ignored the “significant limitations” of his South Florida property.
For the past month, Mar-a-Lago has dominated headlines amid a dispute between the Justice Department and former President Donald Trump over a criminal investigation into government documents once stored at his South Florida home.
On Wednesday, the West Palm Beach estate reentered play on a separate, newly dangerous front in the former president’s legal battles.
In a sweeping lawsuit, the New York State Attorney’s Office accused Trump, his three oldest children and a business of the same name of grossly overstating their assets as part of a years-long fraud scheme. Referring to the title of Trump’s 1987 book of memoirs and business advice, Attorney General Letitia James said: “Claiming to have money you don’t have is not the art of the deal; it’s the art of the steal.”
Her office’s 280-page lawsuit identified 23 properties — among them Mar-a-Lago.
In the financial statements, James said, Trump “blatantly ignored legal restrictions” on the use of his Mar-a-Lago property that materially affected its value. Trump valued his South Florida property “on the false premise that it was on an open-ended property and could be developed for residential use,” she said.
However, James argued that Trump knew Mar-a-Lago was subject to “severe” restrictions, as he personally signed deeds “severely limiting” changes to the property. Trump also donated his housing development rights in an effort to get a tax deduction and lower property taxes, she said.
The deeds also require Trump to donate more than 23 percent of Mar-a-Lago’s value to a historic preservation fund if he ever sells the property.
According to the lawsuit, Trump once valued Mar-a-Lago at as much as $739 million. In reality, the suit says, the club generated less than $25 million in annual revenue and should have been valued at closer to $75 million — about a tenth of Trump’s estimate.
James’ lawsuit alleges that Trump’s overvaluation of assets was not limited to his winter borders. It has expanded, she said, to Trump’s golf courses — including clubs in Scotland and Florida.
As a civil — not a criminal — lawsuit, James’ case against Trump does not come with the risk of jail time for the former president or his three oldest adult children: Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka Trump. James is instead seeking $250 million in punitive damages and moving to permanently bar the Trumps from serving as officers or directors of New York businesses. Her office’s lawsuit also sought a five-year ban on Trump and his children from participating in any real estate transactions — a potentially devastating restriction on the former president’s family business.
James’ lawsuit has brought new intensity to just one of many areas of legal danger for the former president.
In Georgia, a prosecutor in Atlanta subpoenaed several Trump allies as part of an investigation into efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results. In Washington, DC, former Trump White House advisers appeared before a federal grand jury investigating the events surrounding the Capitol 6 attack January 2021
Meanwhile, the Justice Department tangled with Trump’s lawyers after the August search of Mar-a-Lago, where federal agents obtained more than 11,000 government documents, including more than 100 classified as classified.
A federal judge appointed by Trump has granted the former president’s request that an outside arbitrator — known as a special master — review records and sift through any potentially covered by attorney-client or executive privilege. Judge Aileen Cannon ordered the Justice Department to temporarily suspend review of documents as part of a criminal investigation into Trump’s handling and storage of classified White House documents taken to Mar-a-Lago.
In the appeal, the Justice Department said the decision would cause “irreparable harm” to the intelligence community’s efforts to protect national security.
On Tuesday, the Justice Department and Trump’s lawyers made their first appearance before a special master: Raymond Dearie, a senior judge and former chief judge of a federal court in Brooklyn. At the hearing in Brooklyn, Dearie took issue with Trump’s lawyers’ refusal to back up the former president’s claim that he had declassified highly sensitive records discovered at his South Florida residence.
The criminal laws governing Trump’s handling of government documents — including the Espionage Act — do not require the documents to be classified. Still, Trump claimed to have declassified the documents.
Without any evidence that Trump has taken steps to declassify those records, Dearie said he will have to stick to labels indicating the materials contain national security secrets, including some indicating they include intelligence from human sources and foreign intercepts .
“My take on it is you can’t have your cake and eat it,” Dearie said Tuesday.