As the New York Attorney General investigates the Trump Organization for concocting false real estate values on official documents, lawyers revealed on Monday that one of the world’s largest commercial real estate companies was also the subject of an investigation for his role in the scheme: Cushman & Wakefield.
On Monday, attorneys for AG Letitia James’ office said the real estate firm is now a central player in its expanding investigation into allegations of bank fraud by the Trump family firm.
“They’re right in the middle of this,” Assistant Attorney General Austin Thompson said in court, noting what investigators found to be the company’s key role in “a decade-long story of misrepresentation about its properties” from the Trump company.
Cushman & Wakefield, which is based in Chicago but operates globally, provided advisers who helped former President Donald Trump’s firm assess the value of its properties in California and New York. The company suddenly cut its ties with the Trump Organization in the days following the January 6, 2021, uprising.
The AG’s office has now taken the position that the company’s decision to distance itself from Trump is itself a suspicious decision similar to the recent decision by global accounting firm Mazars USA to dump Trump and disavow their work for him.
“We think the loud exit from Cushman and Wakefield… is another red flag. And we would love to hear more about that,” Thompson said.
Real estate company attorney Sawnie A. McEntire painted a different picture. He said the company played along with the AG’s years-long investigation, handing over documents after receiving four subpoenas and asking half a dozen employees to testify before investigators.
“We did not ignore the Attorney General’s subpoenas and we never held ourselves above the law,” McEntire said.
The question now is whether the Attorney General’s office can acquire even more evidence, especially now that its investigation appears to be intensifying and approaching the point where the office can prosecute the Trump Organization and others for allegedly violating the New York business laws.
“The evidence shows that Cushman was as implicated in the misrepresentations of Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organization as almost any other entity,” Thompson told the judge Monday.
The AG’s office has been quietly communicating with the real estate company since June 2019, according to a person familiar with their interactions. However, the law enforcement agency has increased pressure on the company in recent weeks.
On April 8, investigators asked a state court judge to intervene and force the company to turn over records that reflect how its employees appraised properties other than the Trump real estate. Lawyers for the AG’s office explained that they wanted to see how they compare in order to better assess how and why Cushman & Wakefield gave Trump such positive ratings.
But on Monday, Cushman & Wakefield’s legal team attempted to portray this as an unwarranted and unfair deep dive into the company’s “intimate, private and confidential data”.
“The public interest must be weighed against the invasion that will take place here, forcing my client to go through…thousands of his clients and thousands of reviews,” said McEntire, a Texas attorney.
Judge Arthur F. Engoron countered that it was not a regular trial. “The Attorney General has the authority to investigate the operation of businesses in this state,” he said.
The judge ended the hearing by ordering Cushman & Wakefield to turn over records sought by investigators, giving the company until May 27 to do so.