© Reuters. The entrance to Trump Tower is pictured amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the Manhattan neighborhood of New York City, New York, the United States, on January 20, 2021. REUTERS / Carlo Allegri
By Noeleen Walder and Jan Wolfe
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The New York attorney general’s office announced Tuesday that it has now opened a criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump’s company, which increases legal risk to Trump and his family.
Attorney General Letitia James has been investigating whether the Trump Organization has falsely reported property values to secure credit and gain economic and tax benefits.
The latest announcement marked a further escalation in the legal threat Trump faced four months after leaving office, bringing the former Republican president’s known criminal investigation to three.
“We have told the Trump organization that our investigation into the organization is no longer of a purely civil nature,” said Fabien Levy, a spokesman for the attorney general, in a statement.
“We are now actively investigating the Trump organization in a criminal capacity with the Manhattan Attorney’s Office,” he said.
The Trump Organization, the former president’s family business, could not immediately be reached for comment. Trump has said the investigation overseen by James, a Democrat, is politically motivated.
James has been researching whether the Trump Organization raised the values of some properties to get better credit and lowered their values to get real estate tax breaks.
Separately, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has been investigating Trump’s pre-presidency business relationships for more than two years.
The Vance office has stated in court records that it is investigating “potentially extensive and protracted criminal conduct” in the Trump organization, including tax and insurance fraud and forgery of business records.
In February, prosecutors in Fulton County, Georgia opened a criminal investigation into Trump’s attempts to sway the state’s 2020 election results after he was recorded on a Jan. 2 phone call pressuring the Georgian Foreign Secretary to revoke the voting result due to unfounded votes.
Vance’s investigation began after Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen paid hush money to silence two women ahead of the 2016 election over extramarital sexual encounters they allegedly had with Trump.
James said she opened her investigation after Cohen testified before Congress that Trump’s financial reports were tampered with to save money on loans or lower his property taxes.
Cohen, who once said he would take a bullet for Trump, pleaded guilty in 2018 to funding financial-finance violations and other crimes and is currently serving his three-year prison sentence.
“As more and more documents are scrutinized by NYAG and NYDA, the problems for Donald Trump seem to keep getting worse! Soon Donald and Associates will be held responsible for their actions,” Cohen said in a text message to Reuters Night on Tuesday.
Two people familiar with Vance’s probe told Reuters that Cohen was interviewed by District Attorney’s investigators.
Court records show that the investigations of the New York attorney general and the Manhattan district attorney, although separate, overlap.
Both investigate how the Trump Organization and its officials assessed the value of Seven Springs, a 212 acre property north of Manhattan that Trump bought in 1995. Trump’s company said the centuries-old, 50,000-square-foot mansion on the site will be used as a retreat for Trump families.
Trump’s ambitions to build a championship golf course there were derailed by the local opposition, and he put off yet another luxury home construction plan.
However, according to property records and court records, the property became a vehicle for a tax break. In 2015, he signed a conservation measure – an agreement not to develop the property – covering 158 hectares.
The attorney general’s office said in a lawsuit that an appraiser hired by Trump prior to the Conservation Treaty set the property’s value at $ 56.5 million and the easement value at $ 21.1 million – an amount Trump claims as an income tax deduction made.