What he got away with

Speaking of Trump and criminality and how he totally had no idea it’s not legal to steal an election, Mark Pomerantz was on Fresh Air a couple of days ago.

Our guest today, Mark Pomerantz, has written an insider’s account of the year he and others at the Manhattan district attorney’s office spent on a criminal investigation of Donald Trump’s finances and business practices. Pomerantz was a retired prosecutor and lawyer in December 2020 when he was invited to join then DA Cyrus Vance’s team looking into Trump. In his book, Pomerantz calls the investigation the legal equivalent of a plane crash where the principal cause was pilot error.

At the end of 2021, as District Attorney Vance approached retirement, Pomerantz felt the team had sufficient evidence to file felony charges against Trump. But the newly elected district attorney, Alvin Bragg, wasn’t ready to proceed with charges. So Pomerantz and another senior attorney resigned. Their departures made news. And Pomerantz wrote in his resignation letter that not bringing a case against Trump was a grave failure of justice.

To put it mildly.

The thing about Pomerantz is that he spent a lot of time – many many hours – looking at the [deeply boring] details of the financial fiddling, work that normally an underling would do.

DAVIES: You know, you would say at the end of the book that when others were reluctant to proceed with charges against Trump, they hadn’t gone through this process. They didn’t see, you know, what was really at work here. It took time to get into it and grasp the import of it. Let’s take an example or two of these statements and what they told us about Trump’s practices. Do you want to pick one?

POMERANTZ: Yeah. One pretty straightforward example has to do with the triplex penthouse apartment that Trump had on the top of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. In the years 2015 and 2016, the value he assigned to that apartment for financial statement purposes was $327 million. And he reached that, among other things, by saying, well, this apartment contains 30,000 square feet. And let’s put aside for the moment the price per square foot that was used, although that was inflated as well. But the notion that the apartment should be valued on the basis that it contains 30,000 square feet fell apart when it became clear the apartment doesn’t have 30,000 square feet, it has 11,000 square feet.

That’s smaller. 11 is smaller than 30.

So for financial statement purposes, the value of the apartment was tripled by simply saying it had 30,000 square feet when it didn’t. The value of the apartment was vastly overstated. Now, did Trump know that the apartment had only 11,000 square feet and not 30,000 square feet? Was he responsible for telling people that the apartment had 30,000 square feet? Well, we spoke to witnesses who heard him say, in fact, right at this time, that the apartment has 33,000 square feet, even more than the square footage that was used in the financial statements. And if the question is, does Donald Trump know the difference between a 30,000 square foot apartment and an 11,000 square foot apartment, consider the facts that it was his business to buy and sell apartments. He built the building that contained this apartment. He looked after the renovation of this apartment. He has proclaimed himself a real estate guru, and he lived in the apartment. So the notion that it was an innocent mistaken overstatement is just not one that I think people should accept.

It’s ludicrous. Real estate hustlers live and breathe square footage. Of course they don’t make “mistakes” of that kind.

And $327 million is a lotttttttttttttttttttt of money.

POMERANTZ: Well, $327 million is not only a value that exceeds the price that has been ever paid for any apartment in New York City to this date, it’s a number that is larger than the price that has ever been paid for a private residence in the history of the United States, ever. In fact, $327 million for a single residence would put it on the list of the highest prices ever paid or ever valued for a private residence, including such properties as the Taj Mahal and Buckingham Palace. So, you know, it’s a nice apartment, but $327 million? I don’t think so. Our experts looked at the apartment and valued it in the neighborhood of $55- to $60 million, being charitable with respect to its possible value.

I just looked up Balmoral for further comparison. The estimate is $140 million – and it’s enormous, probably genuinely 300 30,000 square feet or something, plus all that land, plus the cachet of royal royality. Trump’s vulgar gilt apartment with the nice view of the park not quite the same.

Any more inflated stats of that kind?

POMERANTZ: Well, another easy example is his golf course in Jupiter, which he bought at the end of 2013, I believe, for $5 million. It was valued as of June 30, 2014 – so that’s about seven months later – it was valued in connection with his financial statements at over $60 million. He had bought the golf course only a few months earlier and had paid $5 million in cash. So how do you get from $5 million to $62 million when no substantial changes or building or redesign or anything much had happened to the golf course in the several months between when he bought it and when it was valued on his financial statements? When we looked at the accounting backup in detail, we saw that Trump had – when he bought the property, he had also inherited some liabilities to members. There were circumstances in which he would potentially have to pay back their membership deposits, and there was about $41 million worth of potential refund obligations. And so he added that to the $5 million.

But the problem was, he had also said in the financial statements that for liability purposes, those liabilities were unlikely to be repaid. There’d always be new members, so they would be valued at zero. Well, he valued them at zero on the liability side, but he valued them at $41 million on the asset side. You can’t do that. And on top of that, he added another 30% for the so-called brand value of the fact that his name was now on the golf course. Again, whether or not that’s appropriate in some circumstances is beside the point because the financial statement said we’re not including brand value in the values that are reflected on this statement. So again, that value was misleading.

Zero on the liability side, $41 million on the asset side. It’s so Trump.

Why did he do all this wild inflation of his monetary worth? To get banks to lend him vast sums of money. That’s a crime.

POMERANTZ: What we learned – and when I say we, I should include the staff of the New York attorney general, which had been conducting a parallel civil investigation and which discovered many of the same facts and indeed discovered many of these facts before the DA’s office learned them. And they were extremely helpful in allowing our criminal investigation to go forward. But what emerged from the investigation was that the financial statements were used in a variety of contexts. But the one context in which they were used that most directly led to criminal liability was the fact that the statements were given to banks in connection with applications for loans, in connection with a loan that The Trump Organization got to purchase the Doral Golf Resort near Miami, in connection with the creation of a luxury hotel at the old post office property in Washington, D.C., and a refinancing of Trump’s property in Chicago.

In each case, The Trump Organization asked for financing in the amount of millions – hundreds of millions of dollars. And in each case, the bank required that Donald Trump personally guarantee the loans. And Trump was willing to guarantee the loans, but the bank insisted in connection with those guarantees. And this is standard practice in the industry and certainly for this portion of the bank’s operations. The bank insisted on not only a guarantee but the submission of a personal financial statement. The bank required as a condition of making the loan and accepting the guarantee that Donald Trump verify that the financial statements he supplied to the bank were true and accurate in all material respects and that they accurately reflected his financial condition. And they didn’t. They overstated his net worth. They overstated the value of his assets by literally billions of dollars. For each year that he submitted personal financial statements to the bank – and the bank required them to be updated annually – the financial statements were massively inflated. And that’s a crime.

He would have just blamed it on his accountants, right? The prosecutors knew that, right?

POMERANTZ: We did. And if a charge had been brought or if a charge should be brought, and certainly in the context of the pending civil case, Donald Trump will certainly say, I relied on accountants; I relied on the people around me. And to be sure, we looked for and got evidence reflecting his personal involvement and responsibility for the financial statements. We developed evidence that he had been involved in providing the values for particular assets to the people in the Trump Organization whose job it was to compile these numbers.

They were, of course, assets that he spent his lifetime building and acquiring. He cared deeply about his net worth. And we had evidence that he had a history of exaggerating and indeed lying and misleading people about his net worth and the value of his assets. And bear in mind, each financial statement indicated that he, Donald Trump, was responsible for the preparation of the financial statements, responsible for the numbers that they contained. They’re his assets. The financial statements were used for his benefit. They were prepared by people who worked for him and who followed his directions. And so we thought the circumstances made out a pretty compelling case that he was indeed personally responsible for the misstatements.

One would hope that’s the way it works – that the big bosses don’t get to say “Oh it was all the underlings’ fault” and walk away humming a cheerful tune.

And on top of all the paper and the circumstances and the facts surrounding the valuation of particular properties, Michael Cohen also told us, as he had told Congress some years earlier, that he had been in the room with Donald Trump and with the CFO, Allen Weisselberg, when the financial statements were prepared. And he knew that the process included Trump saying, in effect, this is what I need to be worth. Now go out, and come back with values of the properties that add up to what I need to be worth. And so the valuations that were put on individual properties were, in effect, reverse engineered to meet the target that Trump had set forth for his net worth. And so that had all the trappings of criminal conduct.

Yet Trump remains at liberty.

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