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Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and 'kings' would pay $1B for Mar-a-Lago, Trump expert to testify at NY fraud trial

Laura Italiano   

Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and 'kings' would pay $1B for Mar-a-Lago, Trump expert to testify at NY fraud trial
  • Trump plans to call Palm Beach real-estate broker Lawrence Moens at his NY fraud trial next week.
  • Moens has sworn Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and "kings" would pay $1B for the club, where he's a member.

Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and "kings" would pay $1 billion dollars for Mar-a-Lago, according to a Palm Beach real-estate broker whom Donald Trump plans to call to testify next week, as an expert defense witness in his New York civil fraud trial.

"It's like a fantasy list," the broker, Lawrence Moens, said in a pre-trial deposition over the summer, describing the dozen-or-so ultra-billionaires he thinks would spring that high for the property.

"I could dream up anyone from Elon Musk to Bill Gates and everyone in between," he told lawyers for the state attorney general's office during the July deposition, previewing next week's trial testimony. "Kings, emperors, heads of state."

"If they want the best house in the country, that would be one of the top two or three that would be available if they were for sale," he added, according to a transcript.

"I wish he'd let me sell it, but it's not for sale," he said.

Moens is scheduled to testify on Trump's behalf Tuesday in the ongoing trial, where lawyers for state Attorney General Letitia James are trying to prove the former president exaggerated his net worth by as much as $3.6 billion a year in a decade's worth of financial statements to banks, insurers and tax officials.

Mar-a-Lago is chief among those exaggerations.

The AG's office alleges that as part of an effort to trick banks into charging him better interest rates, Trump intentionally valued the property at astronomical levels, saying it was worth as much as $739 million. That's the number he used in 2018, when state officials say it was only worth $25 million.

In doing so, the state alleges, Trump relied on the false premise that Mar-a-Lago was an unrestricted property. Trump misrepresented that he could develop the 17 waterfront acres even though the former president had personally signed deeds donating away his residential development rights for tax purposes, the state alleges.

Trump has fixated on the value of Mar-a-Lago during the trial's nine weeks, as a matter of personal pride and as part of his defense that his net-worth statements actually underestimated the value of his properties.

What's at stake

The trial judge, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, already found in a pretrial ruling in September that Trump's net-worth statements were frauds.

At issue now, in the non-jury, civil trial, is whether the over-valuations of Mar-a-Lago and other Trump properties fit the legal definition of fraud under New York criminal law, and if so, how many millions in ill-gotten gains he must pay back.

The state alleges that over the course of a decade, Trump pocketed more than $250 million in interest savings and property sales proceeds that he'd never have had if he'd told banks what his assets were really worth.

The state fought hard on Friday against Trump's side calling Moens as an expert witness.

Kevin Wallace, a lead lawyer on the case for James, called the broker "a friend of Trump" whose valuation of the club can't be recreated or tested.

The judge had already found in his ruling from September that those deed restrictions severely limited the club's value, Wallace noted.

"The defendants now want to spend a whole day arguing that you're wrong," he complained.

"And that Mar-a-Lago should be valued at $1 billion because Elon Musk might want to go to Palm Beach," he added, sounding exasperated.

"And that's what we're going to do," the judge responded. "I'm very reluctant to allow this but it's the defense case."

An unbiased witness?

Moens is likely to be questioned on the witness stand Tuesday about whether he can give a truly unvarnished view of Mar-a-Lago's worth. He and Trump go back a long ways, and a lot of money has passed back and forth between them.

In 2008, Moens brokered a record $95 million sale of Trump's starter Palm Beach oceanfront mansion to a Russian fertilizer billionaire.

"And did you receive a commission?" Moens was asked during the July deposition.

"Well, it was a few million dollars," he answered. "I don't remember the amount."

"Do you recall receiving $225,000 for consulting work" from Trump, an attorney for the AG, Alex Finkelstein, asked the broker, showing him Trump Organization documents saying that money crossed hands in 2014.

Moens answered that he'd have to check his records.

Moens also testified that he has been a broker for Eric Trump, and a member of Mar-a-Lago since 1996, months after it opened. He knows Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump, who he testified was "a very lovely person."

"I've known her since she was a little girl," Moens said.

He was more circumspect about Trump, though.

"He's someone I've known for probably three decades, maybe longer," he told the state's lawyers, when asked how he'd describe his relationship to the former president.

"How do you describe the word 'friend?'" the state's lawyer then asked.

"I have very few friends, so I would describe them as people that are very close to me, that I see often, that I spent time with, that I have a relationship with," Moens answered.

"Is Donald Trump one of those people?" the broker was then asked.

"I don't see Donald Trump enough or spend enough time with Donald Trump to call him a friend," he answered.

Asked "What would you call him?" Moens added, 'I'd like to think he's my friend, but I would call him someone that I've had an association with for many years."

Moens will be the third Trump insider to testify on his behalf as an expert witness.

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