By Michael R. Sisk and Larry Neumeister

NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Donald Trump inflated his net worth by billions of dollars by routinely misleading banks and others about things like the value of golf courses, hotels and his Mar-a-Lago estate. New York’s attorney general said Wednesday. In a lawsuit that seeks to permanently block Republicans’ ability to do business in the state.

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Attorney General Letitia James called it “the art of theft”.

The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan state court, is the culmination of a three-year civil investigation by Democrats into Trump and the Trump Organization. Trump’s three older children, Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump, were also named as defendants, along with two longtime company executives.

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In its 222 pages, the suit centered on what made Trump famous, blacklighting the image of wealth and prosperity he has embraced throughout his career — first as a real estate developer, then As a reality TV host on “The Apprentice.” And later as president.

It details dozens of examples of alleged fraud, including many claims made on annual financial statements that Trump would provide to banks, business associates and financial magazines as evidence of his wealth. When they were asking for loans and deals.

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For example, according to the lawsuit, Trump claimed that his Trump Tower apartment — a three-story penthouse with gold siding — is nearly three times its original size and that the property The price is $327 million. No apartment in New York City has sold for nearly that amount, James said.

Trump applied similar fuzzy math to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., the lawsuit alleges, valuing the private club and residence at more than $739 million — more than its net worth. 10 times more is a reasonable estimate. Trump’s figure is based on the assumption that the property could be developed for residential use, but the terms of the deed prohibit it.

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“This investigation has revealed that Donald Trump engaged in illegal conduct over many years to increase his wealth, defraud banks and the people of the great state of New York,” James said at a news conference.

“Claiming you have money you don’t is not the art of the deal. It’s the art of stealing,” he said, referring to Trump’s 1987 memoir, “The Art of the Deal.” He said while giving.

James said the investigation also uncovered evidence of possible criminal violations, including insurance fraud and bank fraud, but his office is referring those findings to outside authorities for further investigation.

In a post on his Truth social platform, Trump called the lawsuit “another witch hunt” and described James as “a fraud who ran on a ‘get Trump’ platform.”

Later, in an interview with Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity, Trump said his company’s financial disclosures warned banks not to trust the information they provided.

“We have a disclaimer,” he said, warning banks: “‘You do it at your own risk.’ … ‘Be careful because it can’t be fixed. It might be blocked.’ … ‘Get your own people. Use your own appraisers. Use your own lawyers. Don’t rely on us.’

Trump’s lawyer, Alina Haba, said the allegations are “baseless” and that the case is “not focused on the facts and the law — it’s just about advancing the attorney general’s political agenda.”

In the lawsuit, James asked the court to bar Trump and his three older children from ever running a state-based company again.

She is also seeking at least $250 million in restitution, which she said is an estimate of the alleged fraudulent profits. And she wants Trump and the Trump Organization barred from acquiring commercial real estate for five years, among other restrictions.

James’ case comes amid an unprecedented storm of legal challenges for a former president, including questions about the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s handling of classified records and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Everything is included.

While James’ case is pending in civil court, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is working with James’ office on a parallel criminal investigation.

Trump cited fear of being sued in August when he refused to answer questions in a statement with James, invoking the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination more than 400 times.

The difficulty of criminal prosecutions has decreased in recent months after Bragg allowed a grand jury to dissolve without bringing charges. Bragg reiterated Wednesday, though, that the criminal investigation was “active and ongoing.”

A criminal prosecution will have a higher burden of proof than a civil case. And in a criminal case, prosecutors would have to prove that Trump intended to break the law, which is not necessary in a civil case.

“Usually in criminal cases you have to prove intent. In civil cases, mere negligence or intentional misrepresentation creates liability,” said Naima Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor in San Diego who is now in Los Angeles. Practicing law in a firm.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan said it was aware of James’ possible criminal violations, but otherwise declined to comment. The Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations Division said it “does not confirm the existence of an investigation unless court documents are publicly available.”

The Trump Organization is scheduled to go on trial in October in a criminal case alleging it schemed to give tax-free perks to senior executives, including its longtime finance chief Alan Wesselberg, who alone made 1.7 Over a million dollars in extra cash.

Wesselberg, 75, pleaded guilty Aug. 18. His plea agreement requires him to testify at the company’s trial before beginning a five-month prison sentence. If convicted, the Trump Organization could face fines up to twice the amount of unpaid taxes.

Wesselberg and another Trump Organization executive, Jeffrey McConey, were also named as defendants in James’ lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the FBI continues to investigate Trump’s cache of sensitive government documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, and a special grand jury in Georgia is investigating whether Trump and others tried to influence state election officials.

All the legal drama is playing out ahead of November’s midterm elections, where Republicans are trying to win control of one or both houses of Congress.

Meanwhile, Trump is laying the groundwork for a potential comeback campaign for president in 2024 and has accused President Joe Biden’s administration of targeting him to hurt his political prospects.

Trump’s previous refusal to answer questions in testimony could count against him if a case ever goes to a jury. In civil cases, courts are permitted to draw an adverse inference from such Fifth Amendment invocations.

“If Trump wanted to argue that some accounting decision was malicious, he would have already missed an opportunity when he decided to stay silent,” said Will Thomas, assistant professor of business law at the University of Michigan. “

In a previous clash, James oversaw the shutdown of a Trump charity he accused of misusing its assets to settle business disputes and boost his run for the White House. A judge ordered Trump to pay $2 million to charities to settle the case.

James, who campaigned for office as a Trump critic and watchdog, began scrutinizing his business practices in March 2019 when his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, testified to Congress that Trump had stolen money from Deutsche Bank. overstated his wealth on financial statements provided to Buffalo Bills of the NFL.

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Associated Press reporters Bernard Condon, Bobby Kenna Calvan and Jill Colon in New York and Fatima Hussain in Washington contributed to this report.

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On Twitter, follow Michael Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak and Larry Neumeister at twitter.com/lneumeister

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