Reports have emerged that The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office was just weeks away from filing criminal charges against then-President Donald Trump at the end of the 2020, but backed off when city lawyers downplayed Trump’s alleged undervaluing of a historic building in the Financial District, Mark Pomerantz, former special assistant district attorney, says in his new book, “People vs. Donald Trump,” out Tuesday.
Donald Trump was in trouble
Pomerantz was initially brought onto the Trump investigation as a consultant at the end of 2020 by the inquiry’s leading prosecutor, Carey Dunne.
During a call with other “legal eagles” recruited to advise then-Manhattan DA Cy Vance’s office on the investigation into Trump, Pomerantz said he was told that the district was “considering bringing criminal charges against Trump in a matter of weeks, not months.”
Investigators wanted to charge Trump for allegedly undervaluing his stake in 40 Wall Street, a building in lower Manhattan. While Trump valued his interest in the building as high as $527 million in a 2012 financial document, he told tax authorities his interest was only worth between $16-$19 million.
“This figure was so low as to be absurd,” Pomerantz said, given that the The New York Times reported just months prior that yearly rental income for the building had risen to over $40 million by 2018.
“This meant that he told the tax authorities that the overall value of his interest in 40 Wall Street was less than what he was earning in a single year!” Pomerantz explained.
Prosecutors explained to Pomerantz and other legal experts on a call at the end of 2020 that Trump “had personally signed forms attesting to the accuracy of the absurdly low valuation” and that Trump’s tax filings looked fraudulent.
The role of Pomerantz and the other legal experts brought to consult on the case was to “provide a reality check” on whether it was a good idea to charge Trump, given that accusing a sitting president of financial crimes “would be a dramatic step of cosmic significance.”
It has been revealed that the investigation team was facing setbacks at the time, including the pandemic, which had brought the formation of grand juries to a standstill. In New York, in order to file felony charges, prosecutors must present their evidence to a grand jury, which then decides if there is enough evidence to back up the charges.
Pomerantz said the DA’s office had found a loophole though: filing a felony complaint. Instead of going straight to a grand jury, prosecutors planned to present their case to a judge to get permission to file a criminal complaint. This rarely used method allowed them to potentially file charges before later presenting the evidence to a grand jury, when they were back to hearing cases.
But Pomerantz said this plan “never got off the ground” because the city’s Law Department told the DA’s office that it’s a common practice for property owners to purposefully undervalue their holdings.
“The lowball valuations are submitted ‘under penalty of perjury,’ but according to the Law Department, the owner’s initial valuation figures are not taken seriously, and are regarded as simply the first step in a series of negotiations,” Pomerantz writes.
While Pomerantz said he didn’t particularly agree with the idea that Trump shouldn’t be charged just because “everybody does it,” he said the Law Department’s explanation of how the system works showed that it would be difficult to prove that Trump “had intended to mislead anyone.”
“Although this seemed like a poor way for the city to conduct its business, bringing a criminal case based on a filing that nobody cared about or acted upon, and doing so as the opening gambit in a prosecution against a president, did not strike me, Carey, Cy, or anyone on the investigation as a good idea,” Pomerantz said.
The Manhattan DA’s investigation into Trump never resulted in charges, after Alvin Bragg took over as the new DA in January 2022.