First, search. Then, seizure. How Tish James will go after Trump’s bank accounts and other assets.


NEW YORK — Frozen bank accounts. A sheriff at the door. And maybe even a private plane put up for auction.

Donald Trump could soon face any of those scenarios if he can’t come up with a roughly half-billion dollar bond by next week to stop the enforcement of a civil judgment after a judge found that he and his company committed widespread corporate fraud.

If Trump can’t find an underwriter to guarantee the amount on his behalf — and if he fails to persuade a court to give him an 11th-hour respite while he appeals the verdict — New York Attorney General Tish James can begin seizing his assets.

Monday marks the end of a 30-day grace period that James granted Trump, and she has said she is prepared to act.

“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,” she told ABC News last month. And James has already taken preliminary steps: She has filed the Manhattan judgment in neighboring Westchester County, a precursor to any enforcement actions there.

But even if Trump fails to obtain a bond by the deadline, don’t expect to see James or her deputies immediately marching over to Trump Tower to change the locks.

For one thing, seizing Trump’s assets will require James to go back to court to get a judge’s approval to gain access to Trump’s property.

And for another, James likely wouldn’t start by targeting his real estate holdings, said legal experts. She is more likely to begin by seizing his bank accounts, which would give her direct access to cash, rather than an asset she would need to liquidate.

In order to seize a defendant’s bank accounts, a judgment creditor typically first goes through a discovery process to identify where they are. Then the creditor asks the banks to freeze the accounts — and asks a judge to have the money in the accounts turned over.

In this case, the judge making that call would be Justice Arthur Engoron, who imposed the $454 million penalty last month and whom Trump has repeatedly assailed in the courtroom and in various other public settings.

The approval process regarding asset seizures is typically very quick, said Mitchell Epner, a former federal prosecutor, and usually consists of a brief hearing and then a decision within about a week. Trump will have “extraordinarily limited appeal rights” on Engoron’s decisions, Epner said. “I’ve never seen anybody pursue them.”

Of course, seizing Trump’s bank accounts is unlikely to produce enough cash to satisfy the full judgment — Trump’s lack of liquidity is precisely the reason he’s struggling to post the bond in the first place. On Friday, Trump claimed on social media that he has almost $500 million in cash, but in court filings, his lawyers have made clear that he lacks the cash to satisfy the judgment.

Also on Friday, investors approved a deal to take Trump’s social media company public and boost the value of Trump’s stake in the company to $3 billion. It’s not clear, though, that the deal will help Trump with the civil fraud judgment, because he is restricted for six months from selling the shares or using them as collateral for a loan.

After going after Trump’s bank accounts, James would likely then move on to seizing either Trump’s personal property — planes, cars, jewelry, artwork — or real estate, such as Trump Tower, 40 Wall Street or the Trump National Doral golf resort.

James isn’t limited to seizing assets that were the subject of her office’s lawsuit against Trump. She can seek to seize almost any assets owned by Trump and the other defendants (including his two adult sons), even assets located in other states or other countries, depending on the nature of a country’s treaty with the United States.

“People think it’s limited to New York. It’s not,” said Adam Konta, a New York criminal defense attorney and former public defender. “They can go after any assets anywhere.”

Seizing assets located outside of New York state, however, would entail a more complicated process, requiring James to get the judgment “domesticated,” or authorized by another state as valid in that state.

And there’s one piece of famous Trump real estate James probably could not take: Mar-a-Lago. The former president’s Florida estate would likely be off limits because Florida law has homestead exemptions that prohibit seizure of a person’s legal residence.

“If Mar-a-Lago is his primary residence, that might preclude her from going after Mar-a-Lago,” said Diana Florence, a former prosecutor with the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

In terms of personal property — say, Trump’s plane — a creditor typically enlists a sheriff to physically seize the goods, said Epner. In New York, one of the sheriff’s primary duties is the discovery and seizure of property.

In Trump’s case, Epner said, the sheriff would likely need to coordinate with Trump’s Secret Service protection in advance of arrival to ensure the sheriff can gain access to the property.

When it comes to property that is owned by an LLC that is not one of the judgment debtors, James would need to show evidence that the LLC is 100 percent owned by Trump before being able to seize it, Epner said. “If someone else has an ownership in the LLC, it gets more difficult.”

For real estate, James would need to file a lien against the property and the court would appoint someone to sell the property, with the proceeds of the sale going to the state of New York.

In terms of James’ strategy for which properties to pursue, legal experts said she would likely choose the highest-value properties that can close the gap on whatever remains of the judgment debt after she obtains Trump’s cash.

“I think she’s going to go after the most valuable ones and the ones that she’s going to have the most success at in the least amount of time,” said Konta.

In a fundraising text sent earlier this week, Trump appeared to acknowledge that this process might soon be underway, writing: “KEEP YOUR FILTHY HANDS OFF TRUMP TOWER!”



Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top