Standing before Congress last week, Michael Cohen described a trail of crimes allegedly committed by his former boss, President Donald Trump.
Less than a week later, officials from New York State are picking up on one of them: Trump’s questionable insurance practices.
New York State officials subpoenaed records from the Trump Organization’s longtime insurance broker, Aon, a spokesperson for the company and another person familiar with the investigation told VICE News. The confirmation follows a scoop by The New York Times that state officials have launched a wide-ranging investigation into the Trump Org’s insurance claims and practices.
The subpoena marks the first overt consequence from Cohen’s public congressional appearance, where he provided yet-to-be-corroborated testimony implicating his former boss in a litany of possible crimes, from financial fraud to witness tampering. And it signals yet more legal trouble for Trump and his family, who are staring down investigations from Congress, federal prosecutors, New York State authorities and others.
“This is a state agency headed by a ferocious former federal prosecutor that just sat down at the dinner table,” said Duncan Levin, a former prosecutor based in New York and an expert in financial crime. “This is one more headache for the president.”
Neither the Trump Organization nor the White House returned requests for comment from VICE News.
The subpoena signals the arrival of a major new player in the Trump investigation game: the New York State Department of Financial Services, which was recently taken over by an aggressive former prosecutor named Linda Lacewell. She was named to the post in January after serving as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s chief of staff.
Lacewell’s office is seeking a decade’s worth of documents relating to Aon’s business with Trump and the Trump Organization, and it hasn’t focused in on any particular deal, a person familiar with the request told VICE News.
The nine-page subpoena seeks copies of all communications between Aon and Trump or the Trump Org, and Aon’s internal documents related to Trump and his company, the person said. Officials are seeking to uncover information about compensation arrangements between the Trump Organization and the broker, and whether fees were structured as flat payments or as commissions.
The latest inquiry could pose serious legal problems for Trump and his family business, depending on what the records show.
“If you falsify business records, New York State finds that to be a crime. They don’t have to prove that anyone was defrauded.”
Lying to an insurance broker could constitute the crime of insurance fraud. But finding outright fraud isn’t the only thing Trump has to worry about, legal experts said. Simply messing around with the Trump Organization’s books could also break the law by itself, according to John Coffee, director of the Center on Corporate Governance at Columbia Law School.
“If you falsify business records, New York State finds that to be a crime,” Coffee said. “They don’t have to prove that anyone was defrauded.”
In his televised testimony to Congress last Wednesday, Cohen said the Trump Organization inflated or deflated the value of its assets when it suited Trump’s purposes — for example, when he wanted to lower his tax bill by reporting his assets were less valuable, or to raise the value of his holdings in order to improve his creditworthiness when applying for a loan.
In the case of insurance companies, Cohen said the Trump Org inflated its assets to make it look more financially sound, thereby reducing the amount the firm had to pay for coverage.
“When we were dealing, later on, with insurance companies, we would provide them with these copies [of financial statements], so that they would understand that the premium, which is based sometimes upon the individual’s ability to pay, would be reduced,” Cohen testified.
Trump reportedly enjoyed a particularly chummy relationship with his main insurance broker from Aon, Pamela Newman — who was the first individual to officially donate to Trump’s presidential campaign, according to FEC records. Newman donated the full $2,700 to Trump on June 1, 2015, two weeks before he rode down the escalator in Trump Tower to announce his candidacy.
In a 2011 profile of Newman by Nightly Business Report, Trump is introduced as “one of her biggest clients,” and he goes on to speak glowingly of Newman.
“There's something about Pam where she just gets in there and kicks ass,” Trump said in the show. “She's all right.”
Cover: Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, returns to Capitol Hill for a fourth day of testimony as Democrats pursue a flurry of investigations into Trump's White House, businesses and presidential campaign, in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2019. He appears today before the House Intelligence Committee. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)