Another Legal Loss for Donald Trump (Stay Tuned for More)

David Thornton

David Thornton is a freelance writer and professional pilot who has also lived in Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia and Emmanuel College. He is Christian conservative/libertarian who was fortunate enough to have seen Ronald Reagan in person during his formative years. A former contributor to The Resurgent, David now writes for the Racket News with fellow Resurgent alum, Steve Berman, and his personal blog, CaptainKudzu. He currently lives with his wife and daughter near Columbus, Georgia. His son is serving in the US Air Force. You can find him on Twitter @CaptainKudzu and Facebook.

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15 Responses

  1. Michael Cain
    Ignored
    says:

    I assume the whole punishment thing — loss of business licenses, receivership, liquidation — is subject to appeal. No one sane is going to start trying to unravel the rats’ nest of LLCs any time soon.Report

  2. Ben Sears
    Ignored
    says:

    This is terrifying. $18 million is the price set by a judge on a property bought for a reported deal forty years ago for $20 million? The property is now famous. Real estate professionals in Florida put the price between $200 and $750 million. An undeveloped plot near to the 500 member golf resort that’s only worth $18 million is listed for $150 million. The banks and their appraisers continued on with uncoerced business. Everyone involved but the judge and local tax assessors (as a former real estate agent I can tell you that tax assessment and worth are almost never in agreement) agree that this property is worth more than – as I saw someone put it online – 36 Hunter Biden paintings.
    Go ahead and get Trump if you have the goods, but the Mara Lago estimate, an embarrassing strain on credibility, ain’t it.Report

    • Steve Casburn in reply to Ben Sears
      Ignored
      says:

      The Mar-a-Lago part of Engoron’s ruling:

      “Donald Trump purchased Mar-a-Lago in 1985. In 1993, he sought, and obtained, permission from the Town of Palm Beach to turn the property into a social club (NYSCEF Doc. No. 900), and on August 10, 1993, he entered into a ‘Declaration of Use Agreement’ by which he agreed ‘the use of Land shall be for a private social club’ and that ‘[a]ny additional uses of the Land shall be subject to approval by the applicable governmental authority including but not limited to the Town Council of the Town. the Landmarks Preservation Commission of the Town, the Architectural Review Commission of the Town, Palm Beach County, the State of Florida, the United States Government, and/or any agencies under the foregoing governmental authorities.’ NYSCEF Doc. No. 915.

      “In 1995, Donald Trump signed a ‘Deed of Conservation and Preservation Easement’ in which he gave up his right to use Mar-a-Lago for any purpose other than as a social club (the ‘1995 Deed’). NYSCEF Doc. No. 901. In 2002, Donald Trump signed a ‘Deed of Development Rights.’ NYSCEF Doc. No. 902. As part of granting a conversation easement to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Donald Trump agreed that ‘Trump intend[s] to forever extinguish [his] right to develop or use the Property for any purpose other than club use’ (the ‘2002 Deed’). The 2002 Deed also specifically ‘limits changes to the Property including, without limitation, the division or subdivision of the Property for any purpose, including use as single family homes, the interior renovation of the mansion, which may be necessary and desirable for the sale of the Property as a single family residential estate, the construction of new buildings and the obstruction of open vistas.’ Id. In exchange for granting the easement, Mar-a- Lago was taxed at a significantly lower rate (the club rate) than it otherwise would have been (the private home rate). NYSCEF Doc. No. 903.

      “From 2011-2021, the Palm Beach County Assessor appraised the market value of Mar-a-Lago at
      between $18 million and $27.6 million. NYSCEF Doc. No. 905.

      “Notwithstanding, the SFCs’ values do not reflect these land use restrictions. Donald Trump’s SFs for 2011-2021 value Mar-a-Lago at between $426,529,614 million and $612,110,496, an overvaluation of at least 2,300%, compared to the assessor’s appraisal. NYSCEF Doc. Nos. 769-779.

      “In an attempt to rebut the OAG’s demonstration, defendants rely on the opinion affidavit of Lawrence Mons, who they purport is ‘the most accomplished and knowledgeable ultra-high net worth real estate broker in Palm Beach, Florida.’ Moens claims that ‘the SOFC were and are appropriate and indeed conservative.’ NYSCEF Doc. No. 1292 at 35-36 (emphasis added). The Mons’ affidavit states in a conclusory fashion that because he believes ‘this unique property offers to an elite purchaser the unparalleled opportunity to own an exclusive and extensive family compound in the most desirable sections of Palm Beach… the valuations in the SOFC were reasonable and below my estimate for the market value of the property each year.’ NYSCEF Doc. No. 1435. Moreover, Moens opines that “[i]f Mar-A-Lago was available for sale, I am confident that in short order, I would be in a position to produce a ready, willing and able buyer who would have interest in securing the property for their personal use as a residence, or even, their own club.’ Id. at 29. Critically, Moens does not opine at what price he is ‘confident’ he could find a buyer (although he opines separately, without relying on any objective evidence, that he believes that as of 2023 the property is worth $1.51 billion?).

      “It is well-settled that: ‘where the expert’s ultimate assertions are speculative or unsupported by any evidentiary foundation, however, the opinion should be given no probative force and is insufficient to withstand summary judgment.’ Diaz v New York Downtown Hosp., 99 NY2d 542, 544 (2002); see also Gardner v Ethier, 173 AD2d 1002, 1003-4 (3d Dept 1991) (‘the expert affidavit is also inadmissible because it is conclusory and the views are apparently based to a great extent on hearsay statements from unspecified witnesses as well as upon speculations on the part of the expert’). Accordingly, defendants’ reliance on the Moens affidavit is unpersuasive and certainly insufficient to rebut OAG’s prima face case.

      “Defendants further imply that they may ignore the plain language of the 2002 Deed restrictions because they would likely be able to use the Florida judicial system to get out of their contractual requirements; they further assert that because they may successfully breach their contract in the future, they were not required to consider the restrictions of the 2002 Deed when valuing the property. NYSCEF Doc. 1292 at 48-51. This argument is wholly without merit. At the time in which the defendants submitted the SFs, the restrictions were in effect, and any valuations represented to third-parties must have incorporated those restrictions; failure to do so is fraud. Assets values that disregard applicable legal restrictions are by definition materially false and misleading.”

      “Accordingly, OAG has demonstrated liability for the false valuation of Mar-a-Lago as appears in
      the SFCs from 2014-2021.”

      From pgs. 25 to 27 of: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2023/09/26/us/trump-judges-ruling.htmlReport

    • Dark Matter in reply to Ben Sears
      Ignored
      says:

      This wasn’t “experts can disagree on which numbers to use”.

      The reason the Judge didn’t give it to the jury was because Trump’s legal team admitted that they were making numbers up that had no origin in reality and using them on legal documents.

      Their defense were claims that had no basis in law that the judge felt were so far out there that he warned them and then sanctioned them.

      There wasn’t any disagreement on the facts, which apparently included that Trump was breaking the law.Report

      • Ben Sears in reply to Dark Matter
        Ignored
        says:

        Only the experts do disagree on the numbers. The banks have appraisers that were consulted. Did they commit fraud too?Report

        • Philip H in reply to Ben Sears
          Ignored
          says:

          Like most banks, I suspect they relied on Trump to be honest. That makes them laughably silly but not necessarily guilty of fraud.

          “From 2011-2021, the Palm Beach County Assessor appraised the market value of Mar-a-Lago at
          between $18 million and $27.6 million. NYSCEF Doc. No. 905.

          “Notwithstanding, the SFCs’ values do not reflect these land use restrictions. Donald Trump’s SFs for 2011-2021 value Mar-a-Lago at between $426,529,614 million and $612,110,496, an overvaluation of at least 2,300%, compared to the assessor’s appraisal. NYSCEF Doc. Nos. 769-779.

          This is what the fraud claim rests on. Trump and his organization made what the judge determined where unsubstantiated claims of value far in excess of the county’s valuation. The AG didn’t sue the banks either. so a reasonable and prudent person would conclude that the AG believes they did not violate the law.

          More practically I have to ask why you are so hot to defend a guy whose own lawyers admit in statements as officers of the court that their client committed fraud?Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Philip H
            Ignored
            says:

            My bank didn’t rely on me to be honest.

            I had to provide a proctology report.Report

          • Ben Sears in reply to Philip H
            Ignored
            says:

            The banks determined on their own what the value was and moved forward. They didn’t rely on Trumps numbers, so who was defrauded?Report

            • Philip H in reply to Ben Sears
              Ignored
              says:

              So your real issue is you don’t see a victim here and thus no need for the AG to have brought the suit? That’s great, but also pointless. Mar-A-Lago is but one of Trump’s many profits, and the NY AG sued because she believed he had committed frau din New York -meaning the taxpayers had been defrauded but his and his company’s accounting tricks. That Mar-A-Lago is corporately held (like all his residences) is why we are here.

              But again – why are you working so hard to defend TFG?Report

              • Ben Sears in reply to Philip H
                Ignored
                says:

                This isn’t working so hard. Offering a property for more than it’s worth, for sale or as collateral (which is pretty much the same thing in most cases) is not fraud. The buyer did due diligence. Done.
                If he committed other wrongs, why taint them by bundling prosecution with something that is obviously not wrong and part of almost every transaction involving real estate where the seller didn’t get list or the tax evaluation differs from sale or list?Report

        • North in reply to Ben Sears
          Ignored
          says:

          Dude, saying a building with 10,000 square feet of space has 30,000 square feet of space is unambiguous fraud and that’s merely the worst example. There’s no way to spin that with “experts disagree on things” a buildings gross living area is not something experts disagree on.Report

        • Dark Matter in reply to Ben Sears
          Ignored
          says:

          Only the experts do disagree on the numbers.

          Then Trump’s lawyers were laughably bad to agree experts do agree with the numbers and to admit their client lied about those numbers, i.e. engaged in fraud.Report

    • Steve Casburn in reply to Ben Sears
      Ignored
      says:

      Based on your experience as a real estate agent, is it possible that a 200-acre plot of land with strict and immutable development restrictions could be worth less than a neighboring 20-acre plot of similar attractiveness that can be zoned to build five mansions?Report

      • Ben Sears in reply to Steve Casburn
        Ignored
        says:

        Nothing is immutable, but of course. Neighboring list prices would be only one, and behind neighboring sales price, of the many, including restrictions, bits of information that that bank’s appraisers used to come to the decision that the property was adequate collateral.
        The restrictions were likely way down on the list. With undeveloped comparable properties in the area it would be odd for someone who wanted anything but a golf resort to buy an existing golf resort to tear down and incur all those extra costs. If anything, the restrictions merely state that this thing you are buying must remain this thing that you are buying. That wasn’t a secret to the buyers, appraisers, other involved parties, or even hidden from commenters on this thread. Finding comps for a 500 member turnkey golf course near a tourist destination and business hub with an international airport nearby isn’t something I’ve attempted to do, but if you can find one for $18 million, start putting together investors.Report

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