New York judge orders Trump Organization to give documents to state investigators

In this Dec. 7, 2020 photo President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

A New York judge on Tuesday ordered U.S. President Donald Trump‘s company to give state investigators documents related to a suburban estate that’s the subject of a civil investigation into the family’s business practices.

Judge Arthur Engoron said the Trump Organization must turn over to the New York attorney general’s office all communications involving Ralph Mastromonaco, an engineer who worked on the Seven Springs estate in Westchester County, north of Manhattan.

Trump Organization lawyers had argued that information exchanged with Mastromonaco was privileged because he was providing his expertise to the company’s land-use attorney. Engoron rejected that, saying Trump’s lawyers previously agreed attorney-client privilege did not apply to Mastromonaco’s work on Seven Springs.

A message seeking comment was left with Trump lawyer Alan Futerfas.

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Mastromonaco said he worked on the property about a decade ago and that his duties included presenting the project to the local planning board and designing a driveway. He told The Associated Press he didn’t see how his communications would “make any difference in any investigation.”

“The level of knowledge that I know about this case is zero,” Mastromonaco said. “If you know what zero means, it means nothing.”

Click to play video: 'Trump responds to New York prosecutors, calls investigation of his company a ‘witch hunt’'
Trump responds to New York prosecutors, calls investigation of his company a ‘witch hunt’

Attorney General Letitia James’ investigators are looking at how the Trump Organization and its agents assessed the value of Seven Springs. Trump purchased the 212-acre (86-hectare) property north of Manhattan in 1995 with the intention of turning it into a golf club.

After that project failed to progress, he granted an easement over 158 acres (60 hectares) to a conservation land trust in 2016 to qualify for an income tax deduction.

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James’ office said a professional appraisal at the time determined Seven Springs was worth $56.5 million prior to the donation and that the land being conserved in exchange for the tax deduction was worth $21.1 million.

James, a Democrat, launched the investigation last year after the Republican president’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen told Congress that the president had repeatedly inflated the value of his assets to obtain more favourable terms for loans and insurance coverage.

Trump’s son, Eric, spoke to investigators in October via video after Engoron blocked his attempts to delay the deposition until after the presidential election.

James’ investigation into Trump’s business practices is civil, not criminal, in nature and investigators have yet to determine whether any law was broken.

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