Comment: Fraud decision will do real damage to Trump’s empire

A “complete lack of contrition and remorse” will cost Trump $500 million and control of his business.

By Harry Litman / For the Los Angeles Times

Over the course of an 11-week fraud trial before New York Justice Arthur Engoron, Donald Trump practically begged for a harsh verdict. On Friday, he got his wish and then some.

Engoron issued a scathing 92-page decision that ordered Trump and his co-defendants to pay $364 million for defrauding the people of New York. And that gargantuan figure actually understates the price tag: With the addition of prejudgment interest required under New York law, Trump is looking at closer to $500 million.

Combined with the $83 million a jury ordered Trump to pay last month for defaming the writer E. Jean Carroll, the former president faces a financial hit that exceeds even his own likely inflated account of his empire’s cash on hand.

Like Carroll, the people of New York might not see the money soon; Trump has promised to appeal the verdict, though he will have to pay the penalty or at least secure a bond to do so.

The decision nevertheless delivers real accountability for a man who has managed to dodge it again and again. Engoron’s opinion pillories Trump for his unresponsive, stream-of-consciousness testimony and seems to regard him as a truant child in need of unstinting oversight and stern punishment.

While the financial aspect of the penalty captured the headlines, it’s just one of several ways in which Engoron clobbered the former president.

The verdict further punishes Trump with a loss of control over his business. Engoron appointed a second monitor, styled as an independent director of compliance, to join former judge Barbara Jones in overseeing Trump’s empire. The net effect is that Trump, after a lifetime of doing whatever he felt like regardless of the rules, will have to come down from his perch and ask someone else’s permission for all sorts of previously unilateral business decisions, at least in New York.

Engoron put the remedy into place to safeguard assets now provisionally owed to the people of the state. They’re no longer Trump’s to do with as he likes.

The judge further prohibited Trump from serving as a director or officer of any New York company for three years. That means he can’t try to maneuver his way out of trouble and oversight by forming another company.

The opinion also constitutes a body blow to the brand that Trump has spent a lifetime mythologizing. Titans of commerce don’t tend to cough up huge fraud judgments or ask anyone’s permission to write a check.

The extent to which the Trump brand is propped up by lies has always been open to question. After the verdict, the brand is propped up by even less.

Nor was Engoron’s judgment limited to Trump himself. His sons also face large financial penalties and are barred from holding senior offices in any New York business for two years.

And Trump’s troubles are really only beginning. The day before the verdict, another New York judge ordered him to stand trial next month in the Stormy Daniels hush money case, which could result in a felony conviction and even a jail sentence. Also on the horizon are three other criminal trials, civil litigation over the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and the results of a potentially devastating tax audit.

Even his only apparent long-term defense strategy — returning to the White House to avoid further prosecution — would fail to undo a lot of the damage.

Engoron’s stinging verdict left no doubt that Trump’s characteristic arrogance and slash-and-burn politics played a significant role in the judgment. The judge noted his “complete lack of contrition and remorse,” which he said “borders on the pathological.”

In this respect, he compared Trump unfavorably with the criminal mastermind Bernie Madoff, who at least had the humility to appreciate the damage he had inflicted and apologize to the court and his victims.

Trump, by contrast, has only one speed. He can be counted on to continue to approach the campaign and his serial court appearances with his signature brand of in-your-face, outrageously dishonest braggadocio. If the other cases go the way this one did, it may yet prove to be his undoing.

Harry Litman is the host of the “Talking Feds” podcast. Follow him on X @harrylitman. ©2024 Los Angeles Times, latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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