Trump faces $370 million fine in New York fraud probe How will he pay for it?

  • By Nada Tawfik, Madeline Halpert & Kayla Epstein
  • BBC News, New York

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Former President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before closing arguments in his civil fraud trial in New York

The future of Donald Trump's family business hangs on Friday as a New York judge is expected to rule in his civil fraud trial.

The former president, his adult sons and the company named after him have already been held accountable for fraudulently inflating the value of assets in statements to lenders.

Prosecutors asked the judge to fine Mr Trump $370 million (£291m) and impose restrictions on his ability to conduct business in the state.

That's a lot of money, even for a billionaire. Legal experts told the BBC the huge fine, coupled with a final ruling that could heavily affect his real estate empire, could deal a severe blow to Mr Trump's finances.

“He's not going to suddenly become working class,” said Diana Florence, a former federal prosecutor. “But it would be a lot of money. His fortune would be significantly reduced.”

Why might Trump impose a $370 million fine?

New York Attorney General Letitia James told the court that $370 million was the correct amount for the Trumps to pay irregularly, a financial penalty that included restitution of ill-gotten gains.

He calculated the amount based on three factors: money Mr Trump allegedly earned in interest rate savings on loans due to misrepresentation of his assets; “bonuses” paid to Trump Organization employees who participated in the program; and profits from two property deals that Ms James alleges were fraudulently obtained.

Judge Arthur Engoron will determine the financial penalties when he delivers his verdict.

Mr Trump will also have to pay annual interest on fines dating back several years, regardless of the amount. New York's 9% interest rate means Mr Trump will have to pay an additional nine-figure sum on top of the fine.

Mr Trump has denied fraud and says there is no wrongdoing because the banks made money off his investments. He is expected to launch an appeal, which will put the ruling on hold until a higher court reviews the case.

But if he wants to avoid paying the fine or confiscation of personal assets during the appeal process, he still has to deposit the full amount to be held by the court within 30 days.

A punitive sum – but not a ruin

A calculation by Forbes magazine puts Mr Trump's total net worth at $2.6bn. The New York Attorney General's Office estimates his annual net worth at $2bn in 2021.

Based on those estimates, a $370 million fine would cost Mr Trump about 15-18% of his wealth.

However, on top of this fine, he already owes author E. Jean Carroll $83.3 million in damages from a separate defamation case settled in January. His legal fees are also mounting as he fights four federal and state criminal cases.

These combined financial burdens could mean more money than Mr Trump has. Legal experts say he has many options.

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Judge Arthur Engoren

Trump could get a bond, but it would cost him

To avoid paying everything early, Mr Trump could try to get a bond – a third-party guarantee that he can pay the full fine. It will cost him millions more with additional interest and fees. He may have to put up collateral.

Steven Cohen of New York Law School explained that to obtain a bond from a bonding company, a person typically pays 10% of the total amount.

So if Mr Trump owed $370m, he would have to pay a bond firm $37m (£29m) to issue the bond. And he will not get that fee back.

Trump may sell assets to raise enough cash

In the case, Mr Trump said he had $400 million in cash on hand (the BBC could not independently verify that amount). However, his other legal liabilities and fees may not be enough to cover the new $370 million fine.

“He's going to have to think about what he's going to do with his assets, how he's going to liquidate businesses to bring in that money,” said Sarah Kristoff, a former federal prosecutor.

Much of Mr Trump's wealth is tied to his real estate ventures. His New York real estate empire is valued by Forbes at $490m (£384m), including his flagship condominium skyscraper, Trump Tower, worth $56m (£44m), according to the outlet's figures.

His portfolio includes properties such as golf courses, condominium towers, hotels and wineries.

“Something has to be sold or realized to pay for that kind of expense,” said William Thomas, a professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

image source, Seth Wenik-Pool/Getty Images

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New York Attorney General Letitia James sits behind Donald Trump during closing arguments in court

Trump can ask his loyal supporters for money

Mr Trump could also turn to the massive fundraising machine he uses to pay his tens of thousands in legal fees. According to the New York Times, 10% of every dollar raised from his supporters goes towards his defense in his civil and criminal trials.

He used two political action groups—Save America, which was his primary vehicle for legal fees, and Make America Great Again, which funded his presidential bid—to raise money to cover the costs of these trials, though such structures are typically used for political purposes. These entities are separate from his official presidential campaign account.

Between his first indictment in March 2023 and the end of the year, Forbes calculated that his Save America political action group spent nearly $40 million on lawyers and other related fees.

Under federal campaign finance rules, Mr. Trump could use Save America to pay court-ordered fines, said Shanna Ports, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center. He added that he would not be allowed to pay this fee with official campaign funds.

But lawyers told the BBC that fundraising would not be practical in Mr Trump's case anyway.

A large fine would “create a real cash-flow crisis to bring him nine figures in a very short period of time,” said Michael Ebner, a former federal prosecutor. He added that raising funds from his supporters in a short period of time would be an extraordinary amount.

His Save America PAC started the new year with $5 million in cash, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

When Judge Engoron delivers his final ruling, Mr. Trump will have a clearer picture of what that means for his business and personal wealth. But no matter how he chooses to pay, any large fine could cause serious financial headaches for the former president.

“Trump, for all the misrepresentations and lies about his wealth, is actually a rich man,” said business professor Mr Thomas. “But most people don't have $400 million.”

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