December 8, 2022

  • New York AG Letitia James said Mar-a-Lago was part of a years-long alleged fraud scheme by Trump.
  • Trump said the Mar-a-Lago is worth $739 million, nearly 10 times its actual value of $75 million.
  • James said Trump’s assessment ignores “significant restrictions” on his property in South Florida.

Over the past month, Mar-a-Lago has dominated headlines amid a high-stakes dispute between the Department of Justice and former President Donald Trump over a criminal investigation into government records stored at his South Florida home.

On Wednesday, the West Palm Beach estate once again entered on a separate, newly perilous front in the former president’s legal battles.

In a wide-ranging lawsuit, the New York attorney general’s office has accused Trump, his three older children and a business of the same name of overstating their assets as part of a years-long fraud scheme. “Claiming you have money you don’t have amounts to the art of the deal; it’s the art of stealing,” Attorney General Letitia James said, citing the title of Trump’s 1987 memoir and business advice book.

Her office’s 280-page lawsuit identified 23 originals—Mar-a-Lago among them.

James said in the financial statements, Trump “blatantly ignored legal restrictions” on the use of his Mar-a-Lago properties that materially affected their value. She said Trump had valued his South Florida property “on the false basis that it is on unrestricted property that could be developed for residential use.”

But James claimed that Trump knew Mar-a-Lago was subject to “onerous” restrictions, having personally signed deeds that “severely restrict” changes to property. She said Trump has also donated his housing development rights in an effort to get a tax deduction and lower his property taxes.

The contracts also require Trump to donate more than 23 percent of Mar-a-Lago’s value to a historic preservation fund if he sells the property.

According to the lawsuit, Trump once estimated Mar-a-Lago to be worth $739 million. The lawsuit said the club actually generated less than $25 million in annual revenue and was supposed to be valued at nearly $75 million – about a tenth of Trump’s assessment.

Mar Ago

In this aerial view, the property of former US President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago is seen on September 14, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida.

Joe Riddell/Getty Images)

The lawsuit filed by James alleges that Trump’s overestimation of the property was not limited to winter limits. She said it has spread to Trump’s golf courses – including clubs in Scotland and Florida.

As a civil rather than a criminal case, James v. Trump does not carry a risk of imprisonment for the former president or his three oldest children: Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka Trump. James is instead seeking $250 million in fines and moving to permanently ban the Trump family from serving as an officer or director of a company in New York. The lawsuit brought by her office also called for a five-year ban on Trump and his children’s involvement in any real estate transactions – a potential potential limitation on the former president’s family business.

James’ lawsuit brought new severity to just one of many areas of legal risk for the former president.

In Georgia, the Atlanta attorney general summoned several Trump allies as part of an investigation into efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 state election. In Washington, D.C., former Trump White House advisers appeared before a federal grand jury investigating the events surrounding the January 6, 2021 attack on a building Capitol.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department has tangled with Trump’s lawyers following the August search for Mar-a-Lago, in which federal agents recovered more than 11,000 government documents, including more than 100 designated as classified.

A federal judge appointed by Trump agreed to the former president’s request that there be an outside arbitrator — known as the Special Mr. — to review the records and sort out any potentially involved attorney, client or executive privilege. Judge Eileen Cannon has ordered the Justice Department to temporarily halt its review of the records as part of a criminal investigation into Trump’s handling and storage of classified documents from the White House to Mar-a-Lago.

The Justice Department, in an appeal, said the decision would cause “irreparable harm” to intelligence agencies’ efforts to protect national security.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department and Trump’s lawyers appeared for the first time before the special: Raymond Deere, a senior judge and former chief justice of the Brooklyn Federal Court. At a hearing in Brooklyn, Deere was upset by Trump’s lawyers’ refusal to support the former president’s claim that he had declassified highly sensitive records discovered at his South Florida residence.

The criminal laws involved in Trump’s handling of government records — including the Espionage Act — do not require the documents to be classified. However, Trump claimed to have declassified the documents.

Without any evidence that Trump took steps to declassify those records, Deere said he would need to comply with labels indicating the material contained national security secrets, including some that suggested it contained human-source intelligence and foreign intercepts.

“My point is you can’t have your cake and eat it,” Derry said on Tuesday.

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