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Is NY's fraud suit against Trump without merit?

BTW, it's wrong to judge a book by it's cover, even if the cover is I wasn't going to say unattractive. That would be very very wrong. Nope...not going there.

Letitia James Sacrifices the Rule of Law to Get Trump

Her dubious civil fraud suit is more damaging to the market’s integrity than his conduct is.

By Allysia Finley, WSJ

March 3, 2024 12:22 pm ET

New York isn’t Venezuela, but its political system is going the way of Caracas. Whatever Donald Trump’s financial transgressions, they pale in comparison with Attorney General Letitia James’s desecration of the law in service of destroying a political opponent.

Last week, a New York appellate court rejected Mr. Trump’s petition to stay a legally dubious $454 million civil fraud judgment while he appealed the verdict. Ms. James is threatening to seize Mr. Trump’s properties if he doesn’t pay up by March 25. His appeal suggests he lacks the liquid assets to do so and might be forced to sell or mortgage properties.

It would be one thing if Ms. James were seeking restitution for victims. She isn’t because there are none. Instead she’s seeking financial penalties against Mr. Trump, which Democrats in Albany will spend on rewarding government unions and other political allies. This is the stuff of banana republics.

Ms. James ran for office in 2018 on the promise of taking down Mr. Trump. That she turned up evidence of inflated assets on financial statements he provided banks to obtain loans should have come as no surprise given his penchant for puffery. But her investigation into his vast business dealings failed to produce evidence of fraud.

No bank claimed to have lost money by lending to Mr. Trump, or to have been deceived by his financial legerdemain. Nor did any witnesses at trial say his alleged misrepresentations changed its loan terms or prices. Ms. James’s 2022 lawsuit lacked any evidence that Mr. Trump profited from any alleged wrongdoing.

A former Deutsche Bank risk manager testified at trial last year that the bank’s loan decisions were based on its own analysis, not Mr. Trump’s word. Banks know regulators can punish them for failing to do due diligence when underwriting loans.

Before the 2007-08 housing meltdown, banks qualified borrowers for larger loans than they could afford, often based on inaccurate financial records. Regulators later dunned them for slipshod underwriting. Yet Ms. James bizarrely argued that banks have somehow been victimized by Mr. Trump’s alleged misrepresentations even though they made money from the loans.

Because she couldn’t demonstrate that banks relied on Mr. Trump’s misrepresentations—a critical element of common-law fraud—she rested her case on a sweeping state civil fraud law known as Executive Law Section 63(12). The statute substantially mirrors federal criminal fraud statutes.

Yet in the interest of limiting freewheeling prosecutions, federal courts require proof of property loss or damage to prove fraud. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year in Ciminelli v. U.S.—a case involving New York public corruption—that misrepresentations aren’t enough. New York courts, on the other hand, have given a broad sweep to the state’s fraud law.

The state trial judge, Arthur Engoron, ruled on Feb. 16 that Mr. Trump’s false financial statements, no matter whether they harmed anyone, deserve to be punished. He required Mr. Trump to “disgorge” $355 million in “ill-gotten gains.” How did he come up with this figure? Financial legerdemain.

Ms. James hired a financial expert, who assessed the “interest rate savings” that Mr. Trump supposedly netted as the difference between what he paid and what he would have paid on his loans had his statements been accurate. The judge then tacked on the profit Mr. Trump putatively made on properties for which he submitted false financial statements.

On top of that, Judge Engoron added roughly $99 million in “pre-judgment interest” dating back to March 4, 2019—the day the attorney general launched her investigation—to punish Mr. Trump’s “corrupt intent or desire for personal profit.” Who cares that the lawsuit was motivated by Ms. James’s desire for political gain and government profit?

Ms. James last week jeered that Mr. Trump owes an additional $114,553.04 in interest to the state each day he doesn’t cough up the moolah. It could be argued that the grossly inflated penalties against Mr. Trump constitute ill-gotten gains for the state. Mr. Trump enjoys playing the victim, and Ms. James is more than enabling him.

If the judgment isn’t stayed or sharply reduced, Mr. Trump will have no choice but to dump his properties in a fire sale. Yet it’s doubtful Ms. James actually wants to seize those assets. That would require the state to operate and maintain them before auctioning them off, which it is manifestly incapable of doing. New York City public housing, Q.E.D.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers rightly argue that the state is trampling the rule of law by “unwinding complex commercial transactions between sophisticated parties” even when nobody has been harmed. What’s to stop the attorney general from doing the same whenever she disagrees with how a bank or business has valued an asset?

Ms. James says punishing Mr. Trump is necessary to preserve the integrity of the financial marketplace. But she’s doing more damage than Mr. Trump is.

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