Opinion | Trump Made N.Y. Attorney General’s Fraud Case Virtually Unbeatable

New York Attorney General Tish James raised eyebrows when she refused last-minute settlement overtures from former President Donald Trump. Her 222-page lawsuit filed Wednesday doubles down, asking for wide-ranging penalties against Trump, including $250 million and various bans that would bar Trump and his three oldest children from selling or acquiring real estate or applying for loans in New York for five years — potentially devastating measures for a company that depends on plastering the family name on properties for profit.

It’s not hard to see why James is taking such a hard line. She has a winning hand.

Yes, James’ bold campaign promises leave her open to allegations that she is biased and that her lawsuit is political. And, yes, she lacks the broad investigative and enforcement powers that criminal prosecutors have. But that is part of the reason why she will walk away with a big win here. Trump is fighting on many legal fronts at the same time — a grand jury in Georgia that might lead to an indictment for election interference there, an investigation by the Department of Justice into alleged mishandling of highly sensitive classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, and a federal investigation into Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. If Trump were facing only the civil suit, his lawyer would almost certainly have permitted him to testify in the deposition with carefully crafted answers. But knowing the risks of his words being used against him elsewhere, he made a decision that will haunt him as James’ suit moves forward.

James’ lawsuit is full of seemingly damning evidence, outlining a wide-ranging scheme to defraud lenders by vastly inflating the value of Trump’s assets. This is a pretty common fraud scheme. Fraud is when you lie to someone to get their money, and a common way to defraud lenders is to lie about the value of the assets used as collateral — or in this case, the assets of the person who personally guaranteed the loan — to make the loan less risky than it seemed to be. James alleges that Trump and his kids did this approximately 200 times between 2011 and 2021, sometimes inflating the value of properties by as much as tenfold, to secure more generous loans and insurance coverage as well as tax benefits.

When I was federal prosecutor, I frequently prosecuted bank fraud that looked similar to what Trump and his company allegedly did. I even put away a rich real estate mogul who defrauded his lender. It’s not an unusual fact pattern to see. What is impressive is the sheer size of the scheme. Trump allegedly obtained $250 million via fraud over a 10-year period, and the various machinations he used to inflate the value of his holdings was extensive. James alleges that Trump exaggerated the square footage of his triplex apartment in Trump Tower, claiming …read more