Mary Trump sues Donald Trump for fraud

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Donald Trump’s niece, Mary L. Trump, sues Donald and his siblings Maryanne and Robert for conspiring to commit fraud.

We’ve copied some of introduction to the suit below. The most significant portions are in bold.

For Donald J. Trump, his sister Maryanne, and their late brother Robert, fraud was not just the family business—it was a way of life. Beginning in the 1980s, these siblings took control of the New York City real estate empire that their father Fred Sr. had built, and exploited it to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone around them. They concocted scheme after scheme to cheat on their taxes, swindle their business partners, and jack up rents on their low-income tenants.

This case is brought by a victim closer to home—their niece Mary. Mary’s father, and their brother, Fred Trump Jr., died in 1981 when Mary was just sixteen years old. Upon his death, Mary inherited valuable minority interests in the family business. Donald, Maryanne, and Robert committed to watch over her interests as fiduciaries. They lied. Rather than protect Mary’s interests, they designed and carried out a complex scheme to siphon funds away from her interests, conceal their grift, and deceive her about the true value of what she had inherited.

When Mary’s grandfather Fred Sr. died in 1999, Donald, Maryanne, and Robert moved to squeeze Mary out altogether. They threatened to bankrupt Mary’s interests and terminated the health insurance that was keeping her nephew — an infant with cerebral palsy — alive. Then they presented her with a stack of fraudulent valuations and a so-called settlement agreement, and forced her to sign. All told, they fleeced her of tens of millions of dollars or more.

The fraud perpetrated by Donald, Maryanne, and Robert only began to come to light following publication of an investigative report by the New York Times in October 2018. But it began decades earlier, in secret, unbeknownst to Mary.

In 1981, following the death of their father, teenage Mary and her brother Fred Trump III (“Fred III,” and together with Mary, the “Minority Stakeholders”) each inherited various minority interests in the Trump property empire. Neither Mary nor her brother had more than cursory knowledge or understanding of the nature or value of those interests or the assets to which they related. They had no involvement in how their interests were managed and did not participate in the underlying business in any way. Instead, the Minority Stakeholders’ interests were controlled by Defendants Donald J. Trump, Maryanne Trump Barry, and Robert Trump (together, “Defendants”) and those loyal to them, who also controlled, managed, and operated the overall business empire, and had near-exclusive access to information.

More specifically, because Mary was a teenager at the time of her father’s death, Irwin Durben was appointed to act as a trustee on Mary’s behalf. At the time, Durben was already an old hand in Trumpworld. Durben had been Fred Sr.’s attorney since the 1950s; a fiduciary to various Trump family trusts; a senior executive at various corporate entities associated with the Trump property empire, which were managed and controlled by Defendants; and Donald’s personal attorney. In short, he was irredeemably conflicted. Led primarily by Donald, Defendants conspired with Durben and interfered with his discharge of his duties to Mary. As a result, Durben deferred to Donald with respect to decision-making, favored Defendants’ interests over Mary’s, and ultimately acquiesced in Defendants’ campaign to squeeze her out of the family business entirely. (Durben passed away in 2016 with no obituary or publicity.)

By the 1990s, Defendants were maneuvering to take control of Fred Sr.’s empire. Fred Sr. was approaching his nineties. Gripped with Alzheimer’s dementia, Fred Sr. was increasingly prone to bouts of confusion and memory loss and progressively less able to participate in the management of the Trump family business. His decline presented Defendants with an opportunity to position themselves to profit from his impending death. And while at first they competed with one another—with palace intrigue reminiscent of the HBO series Succession— ultimately Defendants worked together to consolidate their power and advance their own interests at the expense of everyone else, including Mary.

In 1991, Donald secretly approached Durben and enlisted him to draft a codicil to Fred Sr.’s will that would have put Donald in complete control of Fred Sr.’s estate. Even though he was chief counsel to Fred Sr., Durben agreed to do Donald’s bidding. When the codicil was presented to Fred Sr. for his signature, in a moment of lucidity, Fred Sr. became suspicious and rejected the codicil. But Maryanne finished the job, procuring a revised will that named the three Defendants the executors of Fred Sr.’s estate (the “1991 Will”).

Four years later, in 1995, Robert procured from Fred Sr. a sweeping power of attorney giving Robert the power to act in Fred Sr.’s “name, place and stead.” While Robert already exercised significant power in Fred Sr.’s empire, the power of attorney gave him explicit authority over all aspects of Fred Sr.’s affairs and business, including “real estate transactions,” “banking transactions,” “business operating transactions,” “estate transactions,” and “records, reports, and statements.”

Having secured the loyalty of Mary’s trustee and cemented control over Fred Sr.’s business empire and forthcoming estate, Defendants conspired with each other and those loyal to them to abuse their dominant position for their own benefit, breach the trust that had been placed in them, and defraud Mary out of what was rightfully hers.

More specifically, Defendants perpetrated three fraudulent schemes against Mary. Each scheme was a fraud in itself, but they also built on one another. First, Defendants fraudulently siphoned value from Mary’s interests to entities Defendants owned and controlled, while disguising those transfers as legitimate business transactions (the “Grift”). Second, Defendants fraudulently depressed the value of Mary’s interests, and the net income they generated, in part through fraudulent appraisals and financial statements (the “Devaluing”). Third, following Fred Sr.’s death, Defendants forced Mary to the negotiating table by threatening to bankrupt Mary’s interests and by canceling the healthcare policy that was keeping Fred III’s infant son alive, and once at the table Defendants presented Mary with a stack of fraudulent valuations and financial statements, and a written agreement that itself memorialized their fraud, and obtained her signature (the “Squeeze-Out”). Through each of these schemes, Defendants not only deliberately defrauded Mary out of what was rightfully hers, they also kept her in the dark about it—until now.


The complaint:

Photo: Peter Serling

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