June 10, 2023

  • New York AG Leticia James said Mar-a-Lago was part of an alleged year-long fraud scheme by Trump.
  • Trump claimed Mar-a-Lago was worth $739 million, about 10 times its actual value of $75 million, James said.
  • James said Trump’s assessment ignored “significant restrictions” on his South Florida property.

For the past month, Mar-a-Lago has dominated headlines amid a high-stakes dispute between the Justice Department and former President Donald Trump over a criminal investigation into government records once stored at his South Florida home.

On Wednesday, the West Palm Beach estate came into play once more on a separate, new dangerous front in the former president’s legal battle.

In a wide-ranging lawsuit, the New York attorney general’s office has accused Trump, his three eldest children and namesake businesses of grossly overstating their wealth as part of a year-long fraud scheme. Invoking the title of Trump’s 1987 memoir and business-advice book, Attorney General Leticia James said: “Claiming to have money you don’t have doesn’t amount to the art of contracting; it’s the art of theft.”

His office’s 280-page lawsuit identified 23 assets — Mar-a-Lago among them.

In the financial statement, James said, Trump “blatantly ignored legal restrictions” on the use of his Mar-a-Lago property that materially affected its value. He said Trump valued his South Florida estate “on the false premise that it sits on unregulated property and can be developed for residential use.”

But James alleged that Trump knew Mar-a-Lago was subject to “severe” restrictions, having personally signed the agreement that “severely limited” changes to the property. He said Trump donated his residential development rights in an effort to get tax breaks and lower his property taxes.

The deal requires Trump to donate more than 23 percent of Mar-a-Lago’s value to a historic preservation trust if he ever sells the property.

According to the lawsuit, Trump once valued Mar-a-Lago at up to $739 million. In reality, the suit says, the club generates less than $25 million in annual revenue and should be worth closer to $75 million — about a tenth of Trump’s valuation.


In this aerial view, former U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate is seen on Sept. 14, 2022, in Palm Beach, Florida.

(Joe Riddle/Getty Images)

James’ lawsuit alleges that Trump’s overvaluation of the property was not limited to his winter term. That has expanded to Trump’s golf courses, including clubs in Scotland and Florida, he said.

As a civil — rather than criminal — case, James’ lawsuit against Trump does not carry the risk of jail time for the former president or his three grown children: Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka Trump. James is instead seeking a $250 million fine and permanently barring Trump from serving as an official or business director in New York. His office’s lawsuit calls for a five-year ban on Trump and his children participating in any real estate transactions — a potentially devastating restriction on the former president’s family business.

James’ case has brought a new intensity to one of the many areas of legal risk for the former president.

In Georgia, an Atlanta prosecutor has subpoenaed several Trump allies as part of an investigation into efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results. In Washington, DC, former Trump White House advisers appear before a federal grand jury investigating the events surrounding the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department clashed with Trump’s lawyers after the August search of Mar-a-Lago, in which federal agents recovered more than 11,000 government documents, including more than 100 marked as classified.

A Trump-appointed federal judge granted the former president’s request to have an outside arbitrator — known as a special master — review the records and rule out any potentially covered by attorney-client or executive privilege. Judge Eileen Cannon ordered the Justice Department to temporarily halt review of the records as part of a criminal investigation into Trump’s handling and storage of classified documents taken from the White House to Mar-a-Lago.

In an appeal, the Justice Department said the decision would do “irreparable harm” to the intelligence community’s efforts to protect national security.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department and Trump’s lawyers made their first appearance before the special master: Raymond Deary, a senior judge and former chief judge of federal court in Brooklyn. At a hearing in Brooklyn, Deary jumped at Trump’s lawyers’ rebuttal in support of the former president’s claim that he released highly sensitive records discovered at his South Florida residence.

Criminal laws implicated by Trump’s handling of government records — including the Espionage Act — do not require documents to be classified. Nevertheless, Trump claims he released the documents.

With no evidence that Trump took steps to release those records, Deary said he would have to back off identifying materials containing national security secrets, some of which indicate they include intelligence from human sources and foreign intercepts.

“My view on this is, you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” Derry said Tuesday.

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