Right-wing media defense of Trump's fraud is to wildly inflate the value of Mar-a-Lago

Trump is facing civil charges for inflating the value of his properties to secure favorable bank loans

Right-wing media figures have wildly inflated the value of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and residence in the days leading up to his $250 million civil fraud trial, set to begin on Monday. 

New York Attorney General Letitia James is suing Trump and his company, alleging the former president inflated the value of his assets by as much as $2.2 billion to obtain favorable interest rates on loans from banks and to negotiate lower insurance premiums. Using exaggerated valuations of his assets would make the loans appear less risky to banks, and would give the Trump Organization more leverage in negotiations with financial institutions and insurers in general.

Judge Arthur Engoron ruled in James’ favor on Tuesday, finding that Trump had committed fraud for years. The upcoming trial will resolve any financial penalties Trump will face, including whether he will be forced to sell his properties or just to relinquish control of them to an independent monitor. 

In response, right-wing pundits defended and seconded Trump’s lofty valuations.

On September 29, Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt argued Mar-A-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida, is “worth, I mean, I would say at least -- I’d say, what, a billion dollars?”

Video file

Citation From the September 29, 2023, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends

Earhardt may want to eschew a future in real estate. According to NBC News, “Engoron noted that from 2011 to 2021, the Palm Beach County assessor appraised the market value of Mar-a-Lago at $18 million to $27.6 million.” 

CBS News further reported that it wasn’t just the county that put the club’s value in that range — it was the Trump organization itself. “The Petitioner agrees with the determination of the property appraiser or tax collector,” a Mar-a-Lago representative acknowledged on a form obtained by CBS News.

Despite agreeing with the assessment, the Trump Organization reported a significantly higher valuation to its financial institutions. “Trump and the company listed it as worth $490 million on financial documents given to banks, according to the New York Attorney General,” CBS News reported.

On September 27, Fox News host Jesse Watters also offered his rosy assessment of Trump’s Florida club.

Video file

Citation From the September 27, 2023, edition of Fox News' Jesse Watters Primetime

“Real estate brokers value Mar-A-Lago as high as $725 million,” Watters said. “Twenty acres, 62,000-square-foot estate touching the Atlantic to the intercoastal.” 

Salem Media Group’s Charlie Kirk weighed in on the Palm Beach housing market more broadly in an interview with Donald Trump Jr., who has been called as a witness in the case.  

“It’s kind of a running joke that if you get a shed on the island, right, on one of the streets, you know, Jungle, El Brio, or whatever, like a little shack, it’s a $30 million shack — I mean, that’s not an exaggeration,” Kirk said. “Let’s just say there’s funny-money valuations in Palm Beach.”

Setting aside Kirk’s unintentionally ironic acknowledgment that the real estate market in Palm Beach is full of owners misvaluing their property, he is significantly exaggerating the price of homes in the area. According to Realtor.com, the median listing price of homes in Palm Beach was $2.8 million, and the median sold price is $1.2 million. 

Even more generous evaluations put Kirk way out of the typical price range. In 2022, single-family homes were going for slightly under $7 million on average, according to a Newsweek report citing data from Redfin.  

Never one to miss out on a good scheme, Trump adviser Roger Stone also came to Trump’s defense. “I spoke to a pretty prominent South Florida real estate appraiser this morning, who actually came in higher than the guy you spoke to did,” Stone said on One America News’ Dan Ball. “Steve McWilliams told me he thought the property was worth no less than $500 million.”   

According to James’ suit, Trump overvalued several of his New York City properties as well. The New York Times reported that the suit says Trump wildly exaggerated the size of his apartment in Trump Tower, from 10,996 square feet to 30,000. James alleges that Trump used that falsehood to claim his personal penthouse had increased in value from $80 million in 2011 to $327 million by 2015.  

The Times reported that the story was the same at other Trump properties. The Trump Organization listed 502 Park Ave. at $50 million, even though it was appraised for $750,000. At 40 Wall St. the official appraisal was $540 million, but the Trump Organization claimed it was worth $735 million.  

These locations haven’t captured the imagination of conservative pundits the way Mar-a-Lago did, however.

In addition to Don Jr., his siblings Eric and Ivanka are set to appear as witnesses in the case, as are the former president’s longtime fixer Michael Cohen and Allen Weisselberg, ex-chief financial officer for the Trump Organization. In January, Weisselberg was sentenced to five months in jail for his participation in a decadeslong tax fraud scheme while working for Trump.