Donald Trump could be barred from doing business in the city and the state of New York under a new lawsuit filed by top prosecutors, accusing him and his adult children of fraud.
In what would be one of the most devastating blows incurred yet to the former president and his businesses empire during its long and twisting history, New York attorney general Letitia James said it was clear Mr Trump and his children had knowingly engaged in fraudulent activity to mislead people about the value of his business holdings over many years.
It would also represent a personal blow to the man born in Jamaica Estates, Queens, and who has always considered himself a proud New Yorker.
In a press conference she had teased the night before that she would make a “major announcement”, Ms James said she was planning to refer the case to the Manhattan District Attorney if requested, and for criminal referrals to the Southern District of New York, as well as to the criminal division of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
“I want to be clear: White-collar financial crime is not a victimless crime,” Ms James said on Wednesday.
She said the “conduct cannot be brushed aside and dismissed as some sort of good-faith mistake”.
She added: “The statements of financial condition were greatly exaggerated, grossly inflated, objectively false, and therefore fraudulent and illegal. And as a result of that we are seeking relief, and Mr Trump, the Trump Organization, his family – they should all be held accountable.”
In outlining the details of a 200-page civil lawsuit, Ms James and her team had identified more than 200 instances where he or his company made “scores of fraudulent, false, and misleading representations” over a 10-year period.
The lawsuit specifically highlighted what it called “200 false and misleading valuations’’ of the former president’s businesses in the state. She said Mr Trump’s adult children Donald Trump Jr, Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump had also helped falsely inflate the valuation of Trump Organisation holdings.
She said she wanted those children barred from remaining as office holders of any business in the state, and was seeking the return of $250m she claimed their collective actions had wrongly collected.
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Also named in the lawsuit were Allen Weisselberg, former CFO for the Trump Organisation, and Jeff McConney, another longtime company executive.
“These acts of fraud and misrepresentation were similar in nature, were committed by upper management at the Trump Organisation as part of a common endeavor for each annual Statement, and were approved at the highest levels of the Trump Organisation — including by M Trump himself,” the lawsuit stated.
Ms James is a Democrat and Mr Trump has previously insulted her as a “renegade prosecutor” who he said is running a “vindictive and self-serving fishing expedition”.
The Trump Organisation called her previous allegations “baseless” and denied any wrongdoing. On Wednesday, a statement from the Trump Organisation claimed the lawsuit “represents the culmination of nearly three years of persistent, targeted, unethical political harassment” by Ms James.
“An attorney general is supposed to be fair, impartial and unbiased — not weaponize their office to pursue a political vendetta or target their political opponents. Today’s filing by Attorney General James sets a dangerous precedent – not just in New York, but for our entire nation. The good people of New York should be disgusted,” it said.
Unlike most previous US presidents, Mr Trump did not establish a blind trust for his business interests when he entered the Oval Office in January 2017, and controversially said his two sons would remain in charge. The move was widely condemned at the time.
On Wednesday, Ms James took a dig at Mr Trump.
“Claiming you have money that you do not have does not amount to the Art of the Deal,” she said referring to Mr Trump’s most famous book.
“It’s the ‘art of the steal.’”