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Can Trump's Mar-a-Lago Be Seized If He Doesn't Pay Court-Imposed Fine?

Here's what to know about allegations that New York Attorney General Letitia James was preparing to seize the Palm Beach property.

Published March 21, 2024

 (Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via Wikimedia Commons

As former U.S. President Donald Trump appeals a verdict in a New York fraud lawsuit, he faces a March 25, 2024, deadline to prove he can pay a court-imposed fine of more than $454 million. If he fails to do that, or if his legal team loses its motion for a pause on the payment collection, the state may eventually gain legal authority to seize his assets — including his real-estate properties like Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

New York Judge Arthur Engoron issued the fine, which includes interest, after concluding that Trump had knowingly deceived banks and insurers about the size of his wealth and his property values. Trump immediately appealed the judgment, and that appeals case remained ongoing, as of this writing.

Critics of Trump highlighted those facts with exaggerated, or slightly misleading, posts about what could happen on March 25. For instance, some posts suggested New York Attorney General Letitia James could immediately seize properties such as Mar-a-Lago and evict Trump if he could not pay the fine by that day.

(Screenshot via X)


(Screenshot via X)

Trump can only obtain a stay on his $464 million payment (the latest amount owed as of this writing, as interest accumulates) if he can show he has that same amount available in liquid assets or in a bond. (A stay is a legal mechanism that pauses the collection of a fine during an appeals case.) In other words, under state law, Trump needs to put up assets, money or a bond totaling $464 million in order to pause the court's judgment.

Meanwhile, his lawyers have made the following requests of the court: They've asked for a pause for his needing to present the full amount; for the court to reduce the bond from $464 million to $100 million; or for the bond to be waived all together. They said they've been unable to find a company willing to post a bond on his behalf (or essentially act as his guarantor to the court with an I.O.U). More than 30 underwriters said no, according to Trump's lawyers.

If Trump does not get a stay and is offered no compromise from the court (such as a waived bond), he could go to the higher New York Court of Appeals.

'State Officials Can't Just Padlock Trump Tower'

Hypothetically speaking, let's say Trump's lawyers' request for a stay fails, as well as their motion for a reduced or waived bond. Before March 25, Trump could still come up with $464 million by refinancing his properties or making use of an upcoming merger of his social media company, Truth Social. Or, he could avoid paying altogether by declaring bankruptcy.

Let's say none of those things happen, and the appeals case remains ongoing. Then the state can take action. New York law allows James several avenues for getting the money from Trump — such as seizing his properties or freezing his bank account, as explained by The New Yorker.

However, contrary to what some social media users suggest, those potential actions would not happen right away.

"State officials can't just padlock Trump Tower" come March 25, The Associated Press reported. Instead, they could start the process of issuing subpoenas for information on Trump's assets. After that, they could begin legal proceedings for obtaining a lien — which would give officials "the legal right to seize and sell the collateral property or asset of a borrower who fails to meet the obligations of a loan or contract," according to Investopedia.

Then, after securing a lien and other documentation to legally seize a property in New York, James, in theory, could send a sheriff or marshal to enforce the hypothetical court judgement.

And with respect to Mar-a-Lago — which is in Florida, not New York where the case is unfolding — there would be even more bureaucratic steps for its potential seizure due to its location. James would have to register the court's judgment in Florida, for example.

James told ABC News in a February 2024 interview that she would begin legal proceedings to seize Trump's assets if Trump did not come up with the money. Soon after the fine was issued, she said, "If he does not have funds to pay off the judgment, then we will seek judgment enforcement mechanisms in court, and we will ask the judge to seize his assets." Specifically, she referenced 40 Wall Street, one of his properties in New York City. 

According to an analysis by The Scotsman, a daily Scottish newspaper, even Trump's Scottish properties — such as the Trump International Golf Links Aberdeen and Trump Turnberry— could be on the table:

If Ms James does indeed set her sights on Mr Trump's Scottish courses, it is unclear how she would proceed. Both resorts are ultimately owned by a Florida state grantor trust, meaning that the process could begin in the sunshine state's courts system. It would, however, become considerably more convoluted thanks to the fact that Scottish authorities would also be involved. Thanks to a snappily named US statute known as 28 U.S.C. § 1355(b)(2), overseas assets can be seized as part of a civil judicial forfeiture action, but that would require the assistance of the US federal government.

If James decides to seize one or more Trump properties, Mitchell Epner, an attorney, told the BBC she could eventually use a court process for selling the assets. From the sale, the first $464 million would go to New York state as part of the fine and the remaining money would go to Trump.

However, if the state ends up in that position, it would likely not sell until the appeals case concludes, according to Will Thomas, a professor of business law at the University of Michigan Ross Business School, who spoke to the BBC. It's possible that James' office loses the appeal, and, if it sells Trumps' assets quickly before that ruling, it would need to pay him back somehow.

In sum, there was no plausible reality in which the court could immediately seize the Palm Beach site on March 25. That said, James could start the process of seizing Trump's assets on that day, should he not prove he has $464 million and his lawyers' requests fail.

Sources

Bernstein, Andrea, and Rachel Treisman. "Here's What Happens If Trump Can't Pay His $454 Million Bond." NPR, 20 Mar. 2024. NPR, https://www.npr.org/2024/03/19/1239524037/heres-what-happens-if-trump-cant-pay-his-454-million-bond. Accessed 20 March 2024.

Cassidy, John. "A Financial Reckoning for Donald Trump." The New Yorker, 19 Mar. 2024. www.newyorker.com, https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/a-financial-reckoning-for-donald-trump. Accessed 20 March 2024.

Halpert, Madeline. "Trump Needs a $464m Bond in Six Days. What If He Can't Get It?" BBC, 20 Mar. 2024, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-68609685. Accessed 20 March 2024.

"Here's a Look inside Donald Trump's $355 Million Civil Fraud Verdict." AP News, 17 Feb. 2024, https://apnews.com/article/trump-fraud-letitia-james-new-york-engoron-38bc3a7f2ccb22555c026e9bf70fd5bb. Accessed 20 March 2024.

"Impossible for Trump to Post Bond Covering $454 Million, His Lawyers Say." PBS NewsHour, 18 Mar. 2024, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/impossible-for-trump-to-post-bond-covering-454-million-trumps-lawyers-say. Accessed 21 March 2024.

"Key Questions as Trump Hurtles toward Deadline to Pay $454 Million Fraud Penalty." PBS NewsHour, 19 Mar. 2024, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/key-questions-as-trump-hurtles-toward-deadline-to-pay-454-million-fraud-penalty. Accessed 20 March 2024.

"Letitia James Says She's Prepared to Seize Trump's Buildings If He Can't Pay His $354M Civil Fraud Fine." ABC News, https://abcnews.go.com/US/letitia-james-shes-prepared-seize-trumps-assets-pay/story?id=107381482. Accessed 20 March 2024.

"Lien: Three Main Types of Claim Against and Asset." Investopedia, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/l/lien.asp. Accessed 20 March 2024.

Protess, Ben, and Jonah E. Bromwich. "Donald J. Trump Is Racing Against Time to Find a Half-Billion Dollar Bond." The New York Times, 24 Feb. 2024. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/24/nyregion/trump-fraud-trial-penalty.html. Accessed 21 March 2024.

Protess, Ben, et al. "Trump Spurned by 30 Companies as He Seeks Bond in $454 Million Judgment." The New York Times, 18 Mar. 2024. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/18/nyregion/trump-bond-civil-fraud-case.html. Accessed 21 March 2024.

"What Happens If Trump Can't Secure a Bond for His $464 Million Civil Fraud Judgment?" ABC News, https://abcnews.go.com/US/trump-secure-bond-464-million-civil-fraud-judgment/story?id=108315388. Accessed 21 March 2024.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.