Donald Trump says Mar-a-Lago is very valuable, like the famous painting Mona Lisa. But people are trying to figure out exactly how much it’s worth in a trial that could harm his family’s business.
It’s a number that everyone disagrees on – from $18 million to over $1 billion.
During the 10-week trial in New York, the lawyers arguing for and against Mr. Trump have debated how much his private club in Florida is worth, and whether the way it was valued is honest or fraud.
Mr Trump, his two grown-up sons, and the Trump Organization are being accused of making their assets, like Trump Tower and golf resorts, seem more valuable than they really are. They did this so they could borrow money at lower interest rates, to the sum of $2 billion.
Mr Trump’s businesses saved over $150 million over 10 years because of the low rates, said New York Attorney General Letitia James. She wants to stop him from doing business in the state.
The trial is almost finished, but Judge Arthur Engoron, who is a Democrat, said before it started that the financial documents in the case clearly have fake values that the defendants used in their business.
“He said it’s not real, it’s all made up,” he decided, and held them responsible for lying.
Mr Trump has asked for another judge to look at the decision before the trial starts. The judge (no jury in this trial) has to decide on six more fraud charges. They all need proof that the person meant to commit the fraud.
The former president was supposed to go back to court on Monday but said on social media on Sunday night that he didn’t have anything else to say about the case because he thinks it’s just for politics.
Again, he was most upset about the accusation that he made Mar-a-Lago seem more valuable than it actually is. He said they valued it at $18,000,000, when it is really worth 50 to 100 times that amount.
The white elephant that no one could buy.
The actual worth of Mar-a-Lago is not easy to understand. The old Palm Beach property has rules that say it can only be used as a club for members only.
The land cannot be split up and it costs a lot to keep the estate that was built in 1927 for Marjorie Merriweather Post, a rich and famous businesswoman.
This happened in the 1990s when Mr. Trump said that Mar-a-Lago was too expensive to keep as a private home. He called it a “white elephant” and said it was very hard to sell.
He wanted to make it a private club so that he could use the expensive fees that members have to pay to help take care of the place and keep it in good condition.
Rosalind Clarke, a real estate agent from Palm Beach who has been working since the 1980s and was once president of the Palm Beach Board of Realtors, told BBC News that the issue with pricing Mar-a-Lago was due to certain limitations.
Ms Clarke said that the price is determined by how much money the club makes, not by how much the land is worth. She said that if there were no rules about what can be done with the property, it would be worth a lot more money.
From 2011 to 2021, people say Trump acted like Mar-a-Lago didn’t have any rules about how it could be used.
What value did Trump put on financial papers?
Before the trial, Judge Engoron said that the Palm Beach County Assessor valued Mar-a-Lago at between $18 million and $27. 6 million for taxes.
On the other hand, Mr Trump said Mar-a-Lago was worth $426. 5 million to $612 million, which is way more than what the assessor thought.
Real estate experts say that the tax assessor’s value is usually less than what a property could actually sell for, so it’s not a direct comparison.
The New York attorney general says that the Trump business made the numbers look higher by comparing them to the prices of similar properties, but those properties did not have the same restrictions on them.
The attorney general says that the Trump Organization committed fraud by ignoring deed restrictions at Mar-a-Lago and pretending it was just a private home.
A house suitable for a very important person.
The most important part of the lawsuit is within all of these numbers. Trump spends time with wealthy and powerful people at Mar-a-Lago, even though he owns many other properties.
That’s where he lives. This is where the old president would hang out when he wasn’t at the White House.
In one of the fancy bathrooms made of marble, federal special counsel Jack Smith says Mr. Trump hid important papers.
He is upset about people saying Mar-a-Lago is worth less money, and he talks about it a lot in the news and on social media.
Trump’s lawyers asked a fancy real estate broker named Lawrence Moens to be a witness. He said in court that Mar-a-Lago is worth more than $1 billion.
Mr Moens said very rich and important people like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and even rulers would want to buy the property.
And if there were no rules about what you can do, he might be right.
Ms Clarke, the real estate agent in Palm Beach, said that Mar-a-Lago is a 17. 5 acre property with an old building, a piece of land by the ocean, and the potential to build seven lots in a very desirable area.
She said that without the rules on the property, it could sell for around $500 million. But it might sell for even more if a lot of people are interested in it because of where it is and where it came from.
What’s on the line?
During the trial, Mr. Trump said in court that he doesn’t have to follow the rules in the Mar-a-Lago deed. He also said the prices would have been higher if they had considered the Trump brand.
His lawyers said that the values of assets don’t really matter because banks do their research and don’t just rely on financial statements to make loan decisions.
The last expert witness for the defence, Eli Bartov, who is an accounting expert and professor at New York University, said in court that there were mistakes in the financial documents, but they were not meant to hide fraud or show any wrongful intention.
He said that these “statements of financial condition” are just a beginning for banks and lenders to figure out how much something is worth, and that value can be different depending on who you ask.
Mr Trump often says that banks don’t care because they made money. No bank had any problems. “Nobody hurt any banks,” he said when the trial began.
The prosecutors don’t have to show that people were harmed, they just have to show that someone committed fraud on purpose. When the lawsuit started, the New York lawyer said “even former presidents must follow the same rules as everyone else. ”
After hearing the last testimony this week, Judge Engoron will take a long break and then decide on the remaining fraud charges and any penalties in January.
Mr Trump has a problem because the judge found that the most important documents in the case were all false, according to attorney Mitchell Epner.
Mr Trump and his friends could be banned from doing business in New York and have to pay fines of at least $250 million in the worst situation.
The Trump Organization might have to give up control to someone chosen by a court, or they might have to sell some of their most famous buildings, like Mar-a-Lago.