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Cushman & Wakefield appeals subpoenas order in Trump Organization probe by New York attorney general

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The entrance to Trump Tower on 5th Avenue is pictured in the Manhattan borough of New York City, May 19, 2021.
Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

Commercial real-estate services giant Cushman & Wakefield on Wednesday appealed a judge’s order that it comply with subpoenas issued by the New York attorney general’s office seeking documents related to its appraisals of properties owned by former President Donald Trump‘s company.

Cushman & Wakefield argued that complying with the subpoena for tens of thousands of pages of documents would compromise the confidential information of nearly 1,000 of its clients who have no connection to the Trump Organization, or the properties being eyed by Attorney General Letitia James in her civil investigation of Trump.

Cushman also submitted in a court filing an affidavit from an independent valuation consultant who wrote that the documents sought by James’ office “will not provide a reliable basis to evaluate or critique appraisals” of Trump properties that are already in the AG’s possession.

“While we are filing this appeal out of an obligation to protect the privacy of our clients and preserve the integrity our client relationships, we wish to continue working with the Office of the Attorney General and hope for a swift and successful conclusion to the investigation,” the company said in a statement.

And the company said, “Cushman’s appraisers did nothing wrong, and Cushman stands behind its appraisers and their appraisals.”

James is investigating the Trump Organization over claims that the company illegally manipulated the stated valuations of real estate assets to obtain more favorable financial terms in loans, insurance policies and taxes related to those properties.

Last month, the AG’s office said Cushman had refused to comply with subpoenas for information related to its appraisals of three Trump-owned properties — the Seven Springs Estate, Trump National Golf Club, Los Angeles, and 40 Wall Street — “and information about Cushman’s larger business relationship with the Trump Organization.”

James’s office said that evidence shows the Trump Organization submitted “fraudulent or misleading information valuations of conservation easements to the Internal Revenue Service” related to the first two of those properties.

And the office said that Cushman had issued three appraisals to Capital One Bank related to 40 Wall Street in Manhattan that valued that property at between $200 million and $220 million from 2010 through 2012, before issuing an appraisal to Ladder Capital Finance LLC in 2015 that valued the same building at $550 million.

That last appraisal was used by the Trump Organization to secure a loan from Ladder Capital, which employs the son of Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump company.

On April 25, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron ordered Cushman to comply with James’ subpoenas and gave them until late May to turn over the documents.

The order came hours after Engoron held Trump personally in contempt of court for failing to comply with another subpoena from James for business documents she believed to be in his possession.

Engoron on Wednesday lifted that contempt finding on the condition that Trump pay James a $110,000 fine, and provide additional information about the searches for the documents that Trump claims he does not have.

Cushman earlier Wednesday asked Engoron to reconsider his decision upholding the subpoenas directed at the company. Engoron quickly denied that request, calling it “without merit,” and “simply a rehash of issues properly decided by this court in prior opinion.”

Cushman said in court filings related to its appeal Wednesday that last September its lawyers met virtually with officials from James’ office to offer appraisals prepared by the company for the Trump Organization on Seven Springs, Trump National Golf Club-Los Angeles and 40 Wall Street. In January, Cushman agreed “to confer” with James’ office “to address issues raised by [the attorney general’s team] during the September” meeting.

Cushman also said that the attorney general’s office confirmed in writing that Cushman’s presentation of the Trump-related materials “constituted confidential settlement discussions.”

The company said that James’ office “breached its promises to Cushman,” when it asked Engoron to uphold the subpoenas issued to Cushman for other documents, by including information obtained from Cushman in the January meeting.

“Cushman was promised and expected” that material to be treated confidentially, the company said in a statement.

A spokesperson for James said, in a statement to CNBC: “The court has clearly ruled that Cushman & Wakefield must comply with our subpoenas and turn over information that is relevant to our investigation into Donald Trump and the Trump Organization, and has summarily rejected their attempt today to seek reconsideration of these rulings.”

“While they have a right to appeal, we have a right to continue this investigation and to seek answers,” the spokesperson said.

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