Prosecutors probing Trump Organization property values for possible crimes: sources

Prosecutors probing Trump Organization property values for possible crimes: sources
President Donald J. Trump attends a Korean Business Leaders meeting Sunday morning, June 30, 2019, in Seoul. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Prosecutors appear to be investigating whether the Trump Organization misrepresented property values to tax officials and lenders.

The company's chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg was indicted this summer for income tax fraud, and New York authorities have convened a new grand jury and state attorney general Letitia James is considering a lawsuit related to the Trump Organization's alleged practice of providing low values to property tax officers and high ones to banks, sources told the Washington Post.

"Among the other properties under scrutiny: former president Donald Trump's California golf club, for which he valued the same parcel of land at $900,000 and $25 million depending on the intended audience, and an estate in suburban New York, for which Trump's valuations ranged from $56 million up to $291 million," the newspaper reported. "The valuations were all given in the five years before Trump won the presidency."

Court documents and individuals familiar with the investigation show prosecutors have gathered extensive evidence related to those properties -- including initiation fees at Trump golf courses fro a decade ago and geological reports related to landslides -- and have sough detailed records from two outside companies, appraisal firm Cushman & Wakefield and law firm Morgan Lewis, that worked on valuations with the company.

"This is way, way beyond anything that's believable," said Norm Miller, a professor of real estate finance at the University of San Diego. "I've never seen anything with a gap that extreme."

However, to prove Trump Organization broke the law prosecutors must show the valuations were wrong on purpose for the intent of deceiving a lender of the government, which legal experts say might require a witness from the inside of the company.

"Is it an overly optimistic? Is it an enthusiastic perception?" said Robert Masters, a former top aide to the district attorney in Queens. "Does that make it a lie?"

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