ALBANY, NY – New York Attorney General Letitia James has teamed up with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who has a long criminal investigation into Donald Trump and his family business interests, to dramatically determine the potential legal threat to the former president and former president to tighten his staff.
For more than two years, James had investigated Trump and his company as part of a civil investigation after former Trump attorney Michael Cohen alleged they had fraudulently raised property values for tax breaks and better terms on loans and insurance.
But James’ office announced late Tuesday that the investigation had moved to a criminal investigation and that state agencies are now working with Manhattan prosecutors who were successfully struggling to get years of tax returns from Trump.
“We have told the Trump organization that our investigation into the organization is no longer of a purely civil nature,” said James spokesman Fabien Levy in a statement that CNN first reported late Tuesday. “We are now actively investigating the Trump organization in a criminal capacity with the Manhattan (District Attorney).”
Levy declined to comment further. The Trump organization could not immediately be reached for comment late Tuesday.
Trump is now facing criminal investigations on two major fronts – New York and Georgia, where local prosecutors are investigating Trump’s attempts to interfere in the state election and tilt the vote in his favor.
Georgian prosecutors have confirmed that they are investigating a range of possible criminal offenses, including solicitation of electoral fraud, false testimony, conspiracy, oath of offense, extortion and violence related to threats to the electoral process.
However, the New York Attorney General’s action adds additional firepower to a tax and bank fraud investigation that may threaten his business and future political viability.
“This suggests that the attorney general has uncovered something that suggests there are more than just basic accounting issues,” said former federal attorney David Weinsten. “This increases the heat and increases the likelihood that some type of criminal complaint is likely.”
New York AG’s Trump investigation goes back to 2019
James opened her investigation after Cohen presented documents and testimony to Congress in 2019.
At the time, Cohen, who had argued with Trump, claimed that Trump had regularly increased the value of his real estate and assets in order to get better insurance and lending rates.
In August, James’ office filed in court evidence that the investigation had focused on four properties: the Seven Springs property; 40 Wall Street in Manhattan; the Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago; and the Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles.
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Trump bought the property in Seven Springs in 1995 for $ 7.5 million and tried in various places to develop parts of it into luxury apartments and a golf course. The property comprises two villas and cuts through the Westchester towns of Bedford, North Castle and New Castle.
In 2015, Trump agreed to a conservation move promising not to develop 159 acres of Seven Springs, a decision that came with significant tax benefits.
According to the August court documents, James’ office was investigating whether Trump and his company had fraudulently increased the appraised value of the sprawling Westchester property so that one of his limited liability companies could claim the relief was a $ 21.1 million tax exemption for submitted forms is worth the IRS.
AG, Trump have quarreled before
James’ office and the Trump Organization have argued over the investigation, trying to wrestle free documents and testimonials.
In September, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron of Manhattan ordered Eric Trump, son of the President and Executive Vice President of the Trump Organization, to testify under oath in the investigation.
At the time, the Trump organization characterized James’ investigation as political. James, a Democrat, had previously argued with Trump, a Republican, over the Trump Foundation, which was closed as part of a settlement with the Attorney General.
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“The Trump Organization did nothing wrong, and as is clear from the motion papers, NYAG has made no determination that anything was inappropriate or that action is being taken,” said the Trump Organization’s August statement.
Follow Jon Campbell on Twitter @JonCampbellGAN.