Trump civil fraud verdict misrepresented online

Social media users claim former US president Donald Trump faced criminal charges for simply taking out a loan and paying it back. This is false; the posts misrepresent a New York civil fraud case in which a judge ruled the Republican presidential candidate and his company had unlawfully inflated his wealth and manipulated the value of properties to obtain favorable bank loans or insurance terms.

"When Donald Trump takes out a loan and pays it back with interest it's a crime," says a March 27, 2024 Facebook post. "But when you take out a student loan and don't pay it back, then Biden forgives the loan, steals money from the taxpayers to pay it back it's not a crime."

<span>Screenshot of a Facebook post taken April 1, 2024</span>
Screenshot of a Facebook post taken April 1, 2024

The text spread across FacebookInstagram, TikTok and X, criticizing the Biden administration's erasure of some $138 billion in federal student loans taken out by 3.9 million Americans to pay for a university education.

The posts contrast the Democratic president's plan with a lawsuit New York Attorney General Letitia James filed against Trump in 2022 (archived here).

Judge Arthur Engoron, who presided over the civil case, in February 2024 found Trump and his two adult sons guilty in a non-jury trial, ruling that they and his family company lied about the value of assets -- deceiving banks and insurers. The decision resulted in a $454 million judgment against Trump.

In late March, a New York appeals court agreed to pause collection of the massive fine if the former president put up a $175 million bond, allowing Trump to avoid asset seizures while his case winds through the appeals process.

"The case was a fabricated ELECTION INTERFERENCE con job," Trump said April 1 on his social media platform Truth Social after settling the bond.

Many of his supporters have echoed that narrative online, insinuating the case was part of a political scheme devised by Democrats.

But the latest claims on social media misrepresent the lawsuit against Trump.

Engoron did not find the Republican guilty of merely taking out a loan and paying it back. Instead, he ruled that Trump committed fraud by inflating the value of properties such as Trump Tower by billions of dollars.

"Their complete lack of contrition and remorse borders on pathological," Engoron said of Trump and his two sons in his ruling (archived here).

"They are accused only of inflating asset values to make more money ... Donald Trump is not Bernard Madoff. Yet, defendants are incapable of admitting the error of their ways," he added, referring to the perpetrator of a massive Ponzi scheme.

James had charged Trump under New York's anti-fraud statute, which did not require the attorney general to show there were victims (archived here).

"When powerful people cheat to get better loans, it comes at the expense of honest and hardworking people," James said in a February 16 statement after the ruling (archived here).

"Everyday Americans cannot lie to a bank to get a mortgage to buy a home, and if they did, our government would throw the book at them. There simply cannot be different rules for different people."

Trump is also in prosecutors' crosshairs for other alleged crimes, ranging from falsifying business records in a hush-money case to trying to overturn the 2020 election results. He faces four criminal indictments and 88 felony counts as he attempts to regain the White House in the November election.

AFP has debunked other misinformation about US politics here.