By James D. Agresti
November 6, 2023
In the high stakes New York trial of leading presidential candidate Donald Trump, Judge Arthur Engoron ruled in September that Trump defrauded his lenders by inflating the value of his famed Mar-a-Lago estate by “at least 2,300%, compared” to an “appraisal” by the Palm Beach County Tax Assessor.
it’s widely known that the tax assessor valuation is typically, though not always, less than what a property would command on the open market.
This well-known fact is documented by a wide array of real estate industry leaders and business publications, such as Realtor.com, Zillow, and U.S. News & World Report. The last of these explains in bold letters that the:
assessed value of a property is typically lower than appraised market value.
courts have long found that “generally, it is the ‘market value’ which provides the most reliable valuation for assessment purposes.”
Seemingly oblivious to his own words, Engoron ruled that Trump was liable for fraud in part because “the Palm Beach County Assessor appraised the market value of Mar-a-Lago at between $18 million and $27.6 million,” while Trump valued it “at between $426,529,614 million and $612,110,496, an overvaluation of at least 2,300%, compared to the assessor’s appraisal.”
Highlighting the absurdity of Engoron’s accusation, CNN reported statements from a business scholar and several industry leaders stressing the difference between tax appraisals and market values. Here are just two of the seven statements:
“Appraisal values and market values are just not the same thing. It’s a well-known fact,” said Eli Beracha, chair of the school of real estate at Florida International University. “That’s especially true for properties that are unique. And it’s very easy to argue this is a unique property.”
Dina Goldentayer, executive director of sales at Douglas Elliman in South Florida, said in her experience in the ultra-luxury marketplace the tax assessor’s valuation isn’t considered when trying to value a property. “He wouldn’t make a very good realtor,” Goldentayer said of the judge. “It’s so widely known that it’s not an accurate determination of market value.”
Moreover, the New York Post documented with data from the Palm Beach real estate market that “Mar-a-Lago is worth at least $300 million and that is likely to go up exponentially after dissecting the entire estate.”
PolitiFact Covers For Engoron
Consistent with the facts of this matter, Republican attorney Mike Davis called Engoron’s valuation of Mar-a-Lago “ludicrous” in a video posted to Facebook.
In response, PolitiFact published a “fact check” claiming that Davis’ statement is “false” because Engoron “didn’t value Mar-a-Lago at $18 million. A Palm Beach property appraiser did.”
The glaring flaw of PolitiFact’s claim is that the appraiser didn’t actually assess the market value of Mar-a-Lago, as Engoron alleged. PolitiFact’s article, written by Amy Sherman, obscures this vital fact by removing the phrase “market value” from Engoron’s statement.
Sherman also makes it difficult for her readers to discover what Engoron actually wrote. She does this by linking to the first page of his ruling, while the relevant words are on page 26, and the document is not searchable.
Because Facebook uses PolitiFact as one of its cherry-picked fact checkers, Davis’ post was “flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation.” Facebook then used this flag to reduce the reach of Davis’ post.
New York Attorney General Letitia James—a Democrat who campaigned for this position on a promise to prosecute Trump and remove him from office—brought this case against him. Her press release claims that “Trump falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars,” and thus, she is asking the court to:
- “remove Trump and his children from their roles at the Trump Organization.”
- “ban them from future leadership roles in New York.”
- “force them to “repay $250 million they illegally obtained.”
This isn’t just about Mar-a-Lago. Both James and Engoron, who is also a Democrat, are accusing Trump of inflating the values of many of his assets. This threatens Trump’s entire enterprise.
Engoron has already begun to give James what she asked for. In the same ruling where Engoron misrepresented the market value of Mar-a-Lago, he also ordered that all of the Trump Organization’s New York business certificates be “canceled” and made plans for the businesses to be dissolved.
Per the Associated Press, “Engoron is poised to permanently disrupt the collection of skyscrapers, golf courses and other properties that vaulted Trump to fame and the White House.”
In the ruling, Engoron wrote that NY law gives him the authority to cancel Trump’s business licenses and hold him liable for fraud without any proof that he intentionally inflated the value of his properties. All that is necessary, writes Engoron, is proof that Trump repeatedly conducted business with “false and misleading” financial information.
Under that standard, Engoron himself committed fraud by severely undervaluing Mar-a-Lago. Furthermore, several facts suggest that Engoron did this deliberately. These include Engoron’s own words about the legal importance of market value, the widely known difference between market and appraised value, and Engoron’s decades-long tenure as a judge.
In summary, two powerful New York Democrats are trying to strip the Trump family of their wealth by using a patent falsehood. In conjunction, PolitiFact is providing cover for the judge, and Facebook is using this bogus “fact check” to keep the facts of this matter from the public.