Trump’s $355 Million Headache: What Comes Next in Civil Fraud Case

Justice Engoron banned Trump from serving as an executive of the Trump Organization or any other New York company for three years.
Justice Engoron banned Trump from serving as an executive of the Trump Organization or any other New York company for three years.

Summary

The former president’s team faces choices about finances, legal tactics and business strategy.

The recent $355 million New York fraud ruling against Donald Trump presents a series of financial and practical challenges for the former president and his business. But in several ways, the legal maneuvering is only beginning, starting with a bid by Trump’s legal team to put the decision on hold during the appeals process. Here’s what to know about the case now and where it may go from here.

What did the judge rule?

Justice Arthur Engoron ordered Trump to pay $355 million, plus interest, after finding he fraudulently valued parts of his real-estate empire to secure favorable loans. Trump, his sons and family business were also hit with onerous nonfinancial penalties that threaten the future of the Trump Organization.

Engoron banned Trump from serving as an executive of the Trump Organization or any other New York company for three years. His sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. were also barred for two years. Engoron additionally prohibited Trump and his business from applying for loans from financial institutions registered with or chartered in New York state for three years. The judge also extended the role of a court-ordered monitor who is overseeing the Trump Organization’s finances.

Does that decision take effect right away?

Engoron signed a formal judgment on Thursday that memorializes his ruling. It still needs to be entered by the court clerk. It is technically enforceable after that happens, although civil defendants typically are given some informal grace period before the winning party seeks to collect on a judgment, lawyers said.

“Once the judgment is entered, there’s nothing stopping the attorney general from trying to collect on it," said Jeffrey Metz, head of appellate practice at the New York real-estate firm Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C.

Entry of the judgment also starts a 30-day clock for Trump to initiate an appeal.

Can Trump seek to put the ruling on hold for now?

Trump’s lawyers asked Engoron to pause his ruling for 30 days, but the judge declined the request on Thursday. Their next move could be to file a quick request with an appeals court to stay both the financial penalty and the business restrictions indefinitely while the former president’s appeal plays out.

Trump may have to post a bond to guarantee payment if he loses his appeal. Or he could pay the full amount in escrow.

It could be tricky for Trump to obtain a large bond from surety companies, who would have to be convinced that Trump would reimburse them should he lose. The bond premiums also could be quite expensive for Trump.

“There is not a lot of precedent on how you bond a judgment of that magnitude, because judgments of that magnitude are not all that common," said Ira Matetsky, a partner at firm Dorf Nelson & Zauderer. Trump likely needs to obtain a bond relatively quickly, Matetsky said, unless he persuades the appeals court to modify the bond requirements or grant him extra time to do so.

Due to the unusual nature of the case, the proceedings could also play out in atypical ways, lawyers said.

Lawyers for Trump didn’t respond to requests for comment on their next steps.

Does Trump actually have the money to pay if his appeal fails?

If the former president loses, it is unclear how he will pay the judgment, which could easily balloon to a half-billion dollars or more with interest. His net worth has been estimated at around $3 billion, but the amount of liquid assets he has isn’t clear. In a deposition last year, he testified that he had $400 million in cash. The amount is less than the judgment, meaning he may need to sell real estate to cover some of the debt.

Trump has used some political-action-committee contributions to pay legal fees. There is little Federal Election Commission guidance on whether he could use such contributions to pay a judgment.

New York Attorney General Letitia James told ABC News that if Trump can’t come up with the money to cover the financial penalty, she will look to his property.

“If he does not have funds to pay off the judgment, then we will seek judgment enforcement mechanisms in court, and we will ask the judge to seize his assets," James said.

“We are prepared to make sure that the judgment is paid to New Yorkers, and yes, I look at 40 Wall St. each and every day," James added, referring to Trump’s Manhattan skyscraper at that address.

Trump’s lawyers have said James is pursuing a political agenda to take down the former president.

How long will it take further legal proceedings to play out?

Trump’s lawyers have been focused heavily on a potential appeal even before Engoron ruled. They are expected to argue that James waited too late to challenge some of Trump’s alleged conduct and exceeded her authority in bringing the case at all. They likely also will argue the $355 million penalty was far too high.

It could be at least a year before an intermediate appeals court issues a ruling.

Can Trump work around New York?

Engoron tailored his ruling to address the roles of Trump and his sons in the Trump Organization and their business dealings in New York. But the nonfinancial penalties will likely have a far-reaching effect on his real-estate empire.

The ban on borrowing could have an impact on the company’s development plans globally, as most large U.S. banks are registered or have charters with New York. Trump still could get loans elsewhere, but the process would be more burdensome and likely involve smaller institutions.

Moving assets from the Trump Organization to a new legal entity outside of New York may also prove challenging, because Trump’s business remains under the thumb of a court-appointed monitor. The monitor, put in place in 2022 while the case was pending, has the power to scrutinize the company’s finances, as well as any planned corporate restructuring or disposition of assets.

Write to Corinne Ramey at corinne.ramey@wsj.com, James Fanelli at james.fanelli@wsj.com and Jacob Gershman at jacob.gershman@wsj.com

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