President-elect Donald Trump boards the elevator to the lobby after meetings at Trump Tower in New York City on January 16, 2017.
Dominick Reuter | AFP | Getty Images
New York State Attorney General Letitia James’ office — which already was conducting a civil investigation of former President Donald Trump‘s company — is now also probing the Trump Organization “in a criminal capacity” as well, her spokesman said Tuesday night.
James’ spokesman implied that her probe is being done in conjunction with the ongoing criminal investigation of Trump and the Trump Organization by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.
The two-year-old civil investigation by James was eyeing allegations that the Trump Organization had manipulated the stated value of real estate assets in order to lower their tax liability and to receive more favorable terms for loans and insurance.
Vance’s office has been criminally investigating those same allegations, which first were made in congressional testimony by Michael Cohen, who served for years as Trump’s personal lawyer. Vance’s probe also is focused on other issues as well.
“We have informed the Trump Organization that our investigation into the organization is no longer purely civil in nature,” said James’ spokesman, Fabien Levy.
“We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA. We have no additional comment at this time,” Levy said.
In late 2019, James scored a legal victory against Trump when a judge ordered him to pay $2 million to settle a lawsuit by the attorney general’s office alleging that he had misused his Trump Foundation, a charity, to benefit his 2016 presidential campaign, along with other unlawful activity for more than a decade.
The Trump Foundation previously had agreed in December 2018 to dissolve and to donate its remaining funds to charity as the AG’s probe into the foundation continued.
CNBC has reached out to request comment from Trump’s spokesman, and from the Trump Organization, about the current AG’s investigation becoming criminal in nature.
Trump, who is a Republican, previously has called both investigations witch hunts by two Democratic officials.
James last August filed an ultimately successful court action that forced Trump’s son, Eric Trump, to answer questions as part of her investigation. Eric Trump runs the Trump Organization with his brother, Donald Trump Jr.
The AG’s investigators also have reportedly deposed Allen Weisselberg, the long-time chief financial officer of the Trump Organization. Vance’s probe recently has looked into Weisselberg, and his two adult sons, one of whom works for the Trump Organization.
Among the real estate holdings that James is known to be eyeing is Seven Springs Estate, a 212-acre property in Westchester County, New York.
The Trump Organization used valuations of Seven Springs to claim an apparent tax deduction of more than $21 million by donating a conservation easement on the property in 2015.
In 2019, the Financial Times newspaper noted that Trump purchased Seven Springs for $7.5 million in 1996, but valued it at more than $290 million in 2012.
Forbes magazine in 2014 said that the property was worth less than $19.5 million, citing what were then recent property sales, as well as local realtors and assessors.
James’ office also is investigating the valuations of the Trump building at 40 Wall St. in Manhattan, the Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago, and the Trump National Golf Club – Los Angeles.
In a statement issued in August, James said, “Nothing will stop us from following the facts and the law, wherever they may lead.”
James at the time accused the Trump Organization of stalling in requests for information, withholding documents, and instructing witnesses, among the Eric Trump, “to refuse to answer questions under oath.”
In February, the U.S. Supreme Court refused a last-ditch request by ex-President Trump to block Vance’s investigators from obtaining years’ worth of his tax returns and other financial records via a grand jury subpoena from his long-time accountants.