Donald Trump has suffered an expensive start to 2024 with a New York jury ordering him to pay $83.3m to the retired magazine columnist E Jean Carroll for defamation and a New York justice ordering him to pay more than $350m for financial fraud.
The frontrunner for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination was found liable in two cases, both based out of New York in a year where his campaign clashes with a bevy of criminal and civil cases.
In February, New York Justice Arthur Engoron handed down a decision in Mr Trump’s civil fraud trial, ordering him and his co-defendants to pay more than $350m after finding him liable for defrauding banks and investors as part of a yearslong scheme to secure favourable terms for his properties.
New York civil fraud trial ruling
After a months-long trial in the New York Superior Court, Justice Engoron delivered a decision against Mr Trump on 16 February, his adult sons Eric Trump and Don Jr, and former associates of the Trump Organization.
The ruling ordered the co-defendants to pay $355m in fines after they “submitted blatantly false financial data” to obtain favourable rates on brand-building properties.
The judge also set limitations on each the individuals’ abilities to hold a leadership position in New York businesses or borrow from New York banks.
E Jean Carroll defamation trial ruling
In 2023, Mr Trump was found liable for sexually assaulting Ms Carroll in the dressing room of Manhattan’s Bergdorf Goodman department store in the mid-1990s and then defaming her by lying about it.
Mr Trump’s subsequent denials, claiming never to have even met his accuser and insisting she was not his “type”, ultimately led to a second civil defamation trial that ended in January. The jury decided the former president should pay Ms Carroll a sum far in advance of the $10m she and her lawyer Roberta Kaplan had asked for as compensation for the reputational damage she had sustained.
The nine-member jury awarded Ms Carroll $65m in punitive damages plus more than $18.3m in compensatory damages.
Can he afford it?
According to Forbes, Mr Trump’s net worth stood at around $2.6bn as of September 2023, which is a considerable amount and some advance on the $41.4m he is said to have inherited from his late father Fred Trump – which The New York Times alleged in 2018 was actually closer to $413m, a fact concealed behind dubious tax evasion strategies, it claimed, and which Mr Trump denied – but also some way short of the same outlet’s $3.2bn estimation of his worth in 2021 or the $4.5bn he was worth in 2015, the year before he won the presidency.
The financial magazine arrived at the total by valuing Mr Trump’s portfolio accordingly: golf clubs and resorts ($870m), New York City real estate ($690m), cash and personal assets ($640m), non-NYC real estate ($190m) and social media and brand businesses ($160m).
Of that $2.6bn total, Forbes calculates that Mr Trump has only $426m in cash and liquid assets with which he would be able to pay off his legal obligations.
On that basis, Bloomberg has estimated that a bill for $453.3m would swallow up his liquid assets and eat into his net worth by as much as 15 per cent.
It is difficult to be sure about the real extent of Mr Trump’s fortune, however, given that, when he was running for president in 2016 and throughout his single term in the White House between 2017 and 2021, he repeatedly refused to open his books for public scrutiny, falsely claiming he could not do so because he was under audit by the Internal Revenue Service.
Even if that was true, there was nothing to stop him from making the same commitment to transparency as his predecessors in the Oval Office, which did not stop Mr Trump from insisting otherwise.
The Republican will, of course, angrily appeal both verdicts – although that may not save him from having to put the money in escrow while the appeals process plays out.
He might have hoped to be bailed out by either his Save America PAC or Make America Great Again super PAC, although neither is believed to have anything like the funds required to cover the damages he could be asked to pay.
Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor, has meanwhile told Bloomberg that Mr Trump would not be allowed to use his PACs’ campaign funds to pay his legal fees in these cases because there are no “exceptions that would cover a damages award for a matter not involving him as a candidate or officeholder”.
This article was amended on 19 February 2024 to detail the 2018 claim that Donald Trump’s inheritance from his father was closer to $413m than $41.1m – although this was denied by Mr Trump.