By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) -An expert witness paid nearly $1 million by Donald Trump to testify at his New York civil fraud trial “lost all credibility” by “doggedly” justifying the former U.S. president’s business records, the judge overseeing the case said on Monday.
Eli Bartov, a New York University accounting professor, testified on Dec. 7 that he did not see any evidence of fraud in Trump’s family real estate company’s financial statements, which New York state’s attorney general alleges overstated property values in order to win favorable loan and insurance terms.
Bartov testified that he spent 650 hours on the case at a rate of $1,350 per hour, meaning his compensation totaled around $877,500. Bartov said his invoices were paid both by the Trump Organization and by Save America, a political action committee supporting Trump’s 2024 election campaign.
“All that his testimony proves is that for a million or so dollars, some experts will say whatever you want them to say,” Justice Arthur Engoron wrote in a scathing denial of several requests by Trump for the case to be decided in his favor.
“By doggedly attempting to justify every misstatement, Professor Bartov lost all credibility,” Engoron wrote.
In an email, Bartov said Engoron was wrong to say the “overarching point” of his testimony was that Trump’s statements were “accurate in every respect.” He pointed to his testimony that Trump’s statements contained inadvertent errors.
“No expert rebutted my testimony or testified that they found fraud,” Bartov said. “As to his speculation that my billing rate had anything to do with my opinion, this is my standard billing rate.”
Christopher Kise, a lawyer for Trump, said in a statement that Engoron’s ruling “represents a complete failure to address the legal elements of the claims to be decided.
“All that seems to matter is arriving at a predetermined destination,” Kise said.
The trial has focused mostly on damages, as Engoron ruled before it started in early October that Trump and his adult sons manipulated financial statements to dupe banks and insurers.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, is seeking $250 million in penalties and wants Trump banned from the New York state real estate business.
Trump, the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, has denied wrongdoing and called the case politically motivated.
In his three-page written ruling, Engoron acknowledged the defense’s argument that property valuations are subjective and that inaccurate information in financial statements must be “material” to break the law. But he said Trump’s statements were “replete with examples of material misstatements.”
“A lie is still a lie,” Engoron wrote.
Closing arguments in the trial are set for Jan. 11.
Trump separately faces four state and federal criminal indictments, including two over charges he sought to overturn his loss to Democratic President Joe Biden in the 2020 election. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Bill Berkrot and Leslie Adler)