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What about Don Jr.? What about Eric? Why Judge Engoron gave them lighter penalties than dad.

Laura Italiano,Jacob Shamsian   

What about Don Jr.? What about Eric? Why Judge Engoron gave them lighter penalties than dad.
  • Donald Trump, Jr., and Eric Trump are executive vice presidents at the Trump Organization.
  • On Friday, a NY judge hit them with far lighter penalties than their father.

Since January of 2017, Donald Trump, Jr., and Eric Trump have run their father's real-estate empire as "co-CEOs," as lawyers for New York's attorney general like to call it.

Donald Trump Jr. oversaw the company's property portfolio. Eric Trump helmed day-to-day operations. Both held power of attorney for their father as Trump Organization executive vice presidents.

But the state sought far lower penalties for the two sons — five-year bans on their ever running a real estate company in New York again — compared to the permanent ban the state had sought for their father.

In Trump's fraud verdict, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron on Friday set far lower bans for Trump and his sons.

An appeal will almost certainly put these penalties on hold for many months to come. But under the verdict, Trump is banned for three years from "serving as an officer or director of any New York corporation or other legal entity in New York.

His two sons are banned for just two years.

And though their father is on the hook for the bulk of the $364 million in penalties — the bill comes to $355 million for Trump himself — the sons must only pay $4 million each.

The comparative wrist slap comes despite both brothers having downplayed —Attorney General Letitia James has said they demonstrably tried to hide — their roles in their father's fuzzy net-worth math for years.

The brothers' bad behavior continued even as the state's fraud investigation played out for five years, as the two signed documents, answered emails, and attended meetings relating to that math, the judge found.

Engoron had telegraphed his intention to go easier on Trump's two eldest sons during closing arguments last month.

"You spend all this time to prove that they know that there were financial statements, they signed them, they were responsible for them," the judge said, interrupting one of James' lawyers, Andrew Amer.

"What evidence do you have — and I just haven't seen it — that they knew that there was fraud?" the judge asked.

"I don't see the evidence," the judge added.

A "head in the sand" fraud defense

Maybe the sons had their heads in the sand, Amer responded then. So what?

"Is that a defense?" the state lawyer asked the judge.

"If you have the responsibility," he continued, "and you have the information that is within your access to understand if you are fulfilling your responsibility and instead you stick your head in the sand and don't do anything to fulfill that responsibility, the law says that's not a defense.

"And you can infer you have an intent to defraud," Amer added. "They can't say I didn't bother to pay any attention to it. That is not a defense."

What did Eric do wrong?

Eric Trump had done the remarkable in taking the witness stand back in early November. He claimed that until 2019, he had no idea his father ever even issued net-worth statements.

It's a claim that Amer called in closings "some of the most incredible testimony in the whole trial, which is saying a lot."

"I was focused on pouring concrete," Eric Trump had said in a pre-trial deposition, during which he pleaded the Fifth some 500 times.

But a decade ago, Eric Trump helped fill three years of Trump's financial statements with hundreds of millions of dollars in utterly imaginary net worth, the AG said.

That bogus net worth was for up to nine proposed McMansions Eric Trump hoped to build on his father's Seven Springs property in upstate New York. Eric Trump knew the McMansions could never be built, the AG said, because he was there at the zoning board meetings where the plans were turned down.

Eric Trump also signed a 2021 agreement with the accounting firm Whitley Penn, accepting responsibility for the accuracy of a financial statement the AG says exaggerated Trump's net worth by nearly $2 billion.

Defense lawyers countered that there is no evidence in the record that either Eric Trump or Don Trump, Jr. had any direct involvement in the actual preparation or use of their father's net worth statements.

And what did Jr. do?

Like his little brother, Don Trump, Jr., was guarded when called to the witness stand. He said he couldn't remember key details concerning the business, including whether he worked on his father's net worth statements.

But there was no disputing his signature was on multiple documents, called "guarantor compliance certificates," between 2017 and 2021 certifying on Trump's behalf that the net-worth statements fairly represent his financial condition.

Ivanka Trump was removed as a defendant in the lawsuit in an appellate court decision last summer.

Because she stopped working on Trump Organization deals when she began working for her father in the White House, Ivanka Trump was beyond the reach of the statute of limitations.

Donald Trump remained involved in the company even while he was president. Eric and Don Trump, Jr. — along with executives Allen Weisselberg (since convicted in a separate criminal trial) and Jeff McConney — ran the company on a day-to-day basis while the elder Trump was in office.

Barron and Tiffany Trump were not implicated in the case at all.

In the litigation with the New York attorney general's office, Eric Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. have been primarily represented by Clifford S. Robert. His law firm, Robert & Robert, received $5.3 million in donor funds from Trump-controlled political action committees in 2023 — more than any other law firm.

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