NEW YORK (AP) — The focus of former President Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial Thursday was his son Eric. Testimony and documents indicate that the scion envisioned a “high” value for a suburban golf course and was actively involved in the estimates, as he said he doesn’t remember.
The lawsuit stems from New York Attorney General Letitia James’ allegations that Donald Trump, his company and its executives, including Eric Trump, fraudulently inflated the values of assets in financial statements submitted to lenders, insurers and others. The defendants deny the allegations, and the 2024 Republican presidential candidate says the values were actually underestimated.
About a decade ago, Trump’s companies applied to assess two of their properties in the New York suburb of Westchester County – the Trump National Golf Club and an estate called Seven Springs, according to documents and testimony Thursday.
At the time, the companies were considering so-called conservation easements on the properties, according to David McArdle, an appraiser with commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. A conservation easement is essentially an agreement to forgo development in exchange for a tax break.
McArdle said he was asked in 2013 to find out what the golf course would be worth if 71 high-end townhomes were built there, and he received extensive input from Eric Trump, who is executive vice president of the Trump Organization.
“Of course, Eric Trump has high expectations of value,” McArdle wrote in an email to another appraiser at the time, estimating that the townhouses could easily sell for $1,000 per square foot.
Eric Trump then sent McArdle proposals for properties to compare, arguing that none had “close to the quantity, quality or type of amenities” of the Trump golf course in Briarcliff Manor, New York.
When McArdle agreed on a value of around $45 million, he and the Trump firm’s lawyers emailed to consider how they could present the amount to their client.
McArdle said Thursday that Eric Trump may have had a “higher value” in mind, but a higher number would not have been credible. The email discussion served to “finally tell Eric that he should accept this value from the professionals,” McArdle testified.
McArdle then received a message from Eric Trump saying he had spoken to one of the lawyers and asking McArdle not to send the report until further notice.
Trump’s financial reports sometimes estimated the value of the golf course at more than $100 million, according to James’ lawsuit. The villas were not built.
Donald Trump has floated various plans over the years for Seven Springs, a historic mansion and 213-acre estate spanning three towns in Westchester County. After his development proposals met with resistance, he sought an easement.
McArdle was hired by Trump’s company through an attorney in 2014 to assess the value of Seven Springs. The appraiser said the investigation assumed that the property could be divided into about two dozen building plots for luxury properties.
Once again, McArdle said, Eric Trump pointed out the properties of the property and suggested a supposedly comparable distribution – a project in Connecticut that sold properties for up to $3 million apiece.
“He had a very high opinion of his property,” said McArdle, who said he eventually revealed in a phone call that Seven Springs was worth up to $50 million. Eric Trump was included in and responded to the emails asking McArdle to provide his perspective.
A few months later, Seven Springs was valued at more than $160 million in Donald Trump’s financial reports, according to James’ lawsuit.
When asked about McArdle in this year’s court testimony, Eric Trump said he only “vaguely” knew the man’s name and couldn’t remember much, if any, of the reviews of Seven Springs or the golf course.
“I pour concrete. I do real estate,” Eric Trump said. “I’m not focused on judgments between a law firm and Cushman.”
In his questioning of McArdle, defense attorney Lazaro Fields wanted to explain that it was not unusual for owners to reveal the value of their properties to appraisers and for them to have different opinions.
“Absolutely,” McArdle said, “but ultimately we are the ones who determine the value.”
Both Eric and Donald Trump have attended some trials, but were absent Thursday when the court also heard about a $160 million refinancing loan for a Trump-owned office building on Wall Street in 2015.
An internal document prepared by lender Ladder Capital said that “deal strengths” included Trump’s reported net worth of nearly $5.8 billion, including over $300 million in cash and other liquid assets – figures, that mirrored Trump’s 2014 financial report.
“The asset statement is one of many things we consider in the underwriting process. I wouldn’t say it was a key factor… it was a factor,” said Jack Weisselberg, managing director of Ladder Capital, explaining that “liquidity was what we were really looking at.”
Weisselberg is the son of former Trump finance chief Allen Weisselberg.
The attorney general is seeking $250 million and a ban on Trump and other defendants doing business in New York.
In a pretrial ruling, Judge Arthur Engoron found that Trump and his company had committed fraud and ordered a court-appointed receiver to take control of some Trump companies. An appeals court has now at least temporarily blocked enforcement of this part of the judgment. If confirmed, it could strip the former president of control of Trump Tower and other key properties.
Both Engoron and James are Democrats.
Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report.