Trump's Penthouse Value Estimate Boosted Over His Fame, Witnesses Say

Another $100 million hike in the estimate was based on a single email from a real estate broker, who hadn’t commissioned an appraisal.
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NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s corporate executives once boosted the estimated worth of his Trump Tower penthouse by $20 million partly because of the value of his celebrity, according to trial testimony Thursday.

Another $100 million hike in the estimate was based on a single email from a real estate broker, who hadn’t commissioned an appraisal, didn’t inspect the triplex and was told it was three times its actual size.

From a witness stand, former Trump Organization controller Jeffrey McConney shed light Thursday on calculations central to Trump’s New York civil business fraud trial.

New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit alleges the former president conspired with top executives to exaggerate his wealth and deceived lenders and others. Trump denies any wrongdoing.

In pretrial testimony, the former president said that people who did business with him were given ample warning not to trust the statements, and that he never thought that the documents “would be taken very seriously.” He described the financial statements as more a “compilation of properties” than a true representation of their value, saying some numbers were “guesstimates.”

But McConney’s testimony came with evidence that the documents were integral to some of Trump’s loan deals. In letters shown in the court, McConney told a bank that he was providing Trump’s 2015 and 2016 financial statements as required under the conditions of a loan for his Seven Springs estate north of New York City.

To figure the penthouse value, Trump executives combed through real estate listings, looking only for the highest-priced similar apartments, McConney testified.

And the $100 million increase in 2012?

“I’m basing that on the email from Kevin,” McConney said, referring to real estate agent Kevin Sneddon. The broker had offered a quick estimate based on an asking price for a similar triplex in a Trump-owned building elsewhere in Manhattan – an apartment that ultimately sold for only 40% of the asking price.

The next year, McConney tacked on another $20 million, upping the estimated value of Trump’s penthouse to $200 million. He said the change was based partly on a Trump real estate executive’s suggestion that the apartment’s celebrity connection warranted a higher price.

McConney also acknowledged making his own calculations, instead of relying on the numbers in a bank appraisal, to increase the stated worth of Trump’s Wall Street office building by $227 million.

Those and other asset valuations went onto Trump’s financial statements, which in turn went to banks, insurers and others. James calls that “persistent and repeated fraud.”

Trump says James, a Democrat, is just trying to damage his 2024 presidential campaign. He’s leading the Republican field.

Trump himself didn’t attend the proceedings Thursday, after choosing to be there — and avail himself of the news cameras waiting outside — for the three prior days.

McConney reasoned that there was no “right way” to determine valuations and that it was appropriate to calculate the value of Trump’s apartment based on asking prices instead of sales prices as appraisals do.

Judge Arthur Engoron said: “I think any high school student knows the right way.”

McConney, who worked at the Trump Organization from 1987 until February, also testified at the company’s criminal tax fraud trial last year. Granted immunity from prosecution, the ex-controller admitted breaking the law to help fellow executives avoid taxes on company-paid perks, including by filing false tax returns.

The company was convicted. Trump himself wasn’t charged in that case.

McConney’s appearance Thursday followed days of testimony from two accountants who worked on the financial statements.

James’ legal team sought to demonstrate that Trump and his company had complete control over the preparation of the statements, with the outside accountants relying on information from the company. The defense tried to show that if there were problems, they were accountant Donald Bender’s fault.

Bender, who prepared the statements for years, insisted Thursday that he asked Trump Organization executives for all required documents but didn’t always get them. He said he learned about some missing appraisals only during Manhattan prosecutors’ investigation into Trump’s business practices.

Defense lawyer Jesus M. Suarez asked why Bender didn’t notice the appraisals’ absence earlier.

“I asked them for appraisals,” Bender said. “They represented they gave me everything I needed.”

The non-jury trial concerns allegations of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records. James is seeking $250 million in penalties and a ban on Trump doing business in New York.

Engoron ruled on some other claims before the trial, finding that Trump did engage in fraud by inflating his assets’ worth on the statements.

The ruling, which Trump appealed Wednesday, calls for dissolving the limited liability companies that control Trump Tower and some other prominent holdings and having a receiver operate them. If the ruling is upheld, Trump would lose his authority over choosing tenants, hiring or firing employees and other key decisions regarding those properties.

Engoron on Thursday ordered both sides to submit names of potential receivers by Oct. 26. Engoron also told the defendants to give a court-appointed monitor, retired federal Judge Barbara Jones, advance notice of any attempts to create new entities to “hold or acquire the assets” of a company that’s being dissolved under the ruling.

Along with the civil lawsuit, Trump is also fighting a series of criminal cases. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of plotting to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, illegally hoarding classified documents and falsifying business records related to hush money paid on his behalf.

Trump’s lawyers asked a judge in a filing late Wednesday to dismiss the hush money case in a New York court, calling the prosecution a “discombobulated package of politically motivated charges marred by legal defects.” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said it would respond in court papers due next month.

In Washington, Trump’s attorneys filed Thursday to try to get the federal election subversion case thrown out, claiming that his actions were part of his presidential role so not subject to prosecution. Federal prosecutors are expected to contest that argument.

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