In NY fraud trial, Eric Trump says he relied on others to verify documents

By Jack Queen

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Eric Trump testified on Friday that he relied on accountants and lawyers to verify the accuracy of financial documents that a judge has ruled to be fraudulent in a trial that threatens to hobble his father Donald Trump’s real estate empire.

His testimony wrapped up before noon. Up next is the former president, who is scheduled to take the witness stand on Monday.

In a second day on the witness stand, Trump’s second son was confronted with evidence showing that he had signed off on the accuracy of his father’s financial statements when securing loans for trophy properties including the Trump National Doral golf club in Florida.

State lawyer Andrew Amer also presented emails where Eric Trump discussed classifying his father’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida as a private residence, which would boost its value, rather than a club that hosted guests and social events.

That undercut Eric Trump’s testimony on Thursday that he knew nothing about those estimates, which Judge Arthur Engoron found were fraudulently inflated to win favorable terms from lenders and insurers.

He said he counted on others to ensure they were accurate. “I relied on one of the biggest accounting firms in the country and I relied on a great legal team, and when they gave me comfort that the statement was perfect, I was more than happy to execute it.”

Eric said he did not recall many of those interactions or was only involved with them peripherally while he oversaw other aspects of the sprawling business.

“I pick my phone up at five in the morning and I put it down at midnight. I have thousands of calls,” he said with irritation under questioning by Amer.

Because Engoron has already ruled that Trump and his company fraudulently inflated asset values, the trial is largely about what penalty they should face.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is pressing for penalties of up to $250 million and a permanent ban on all three Trumps owning companies in their home state, among other restrictions.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and has accused James and Engoron of political bias in extensive comments online and in person.

Trump has been fined $15,000 for twice violating a gag order that prevents him from publicly criticizing court staff. Later on Friday, Engoron expanded that gag order to cover Trump’s lawyers as well after one of them, Christopher Kise, objected to the judge’s chief clerk passing notes to the judge during the trial.

Engoron first imposed the gag order on Oct. 3 after Trump shared on social media a photo of the clerk posing with U.S. Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, and falsely called her Schumer’s “girlfriend.”

The trial, which is expected to last until December, is one of several legal troubles confronting Trump as he campaigns to win back the presidency in 2024. He faces a total of 91 felony charges in four separate criminal cases, including two stemming from his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.

Nevertheless, he holds a commanding lead over his rivals for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in next year’s election.

The New York fraud trial has so far featured dramatic appearances by Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who testified that Trump directed him to inflate asset values to make him appear more wealthy.

Trump’s other adult son, Donald Jr., testified this week that he had little to do with those valuations when he and Eric controlled the company during their father’s 2017-2021 presidency.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka is due to testify on Wednesday. She is not a defendant in the case.

(Reporting by Jack Queen; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Nick Zieminski)