A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Fraud | Crooked Media
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September 21, 2022
What A Day
A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Fraud

In This Episode

  • New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a $250 million lawsuit against former President Donald Trump and his three adult children, accusing them of “persistent and repeated” business fraud. Rolling Stone politics reporter Nikki McCann Ramirez joins us to discuss the case and what’s at stake for the Trumps.
  • Russian president Vladimir Putin declared a “partial” military mobilization to shore up forces in Ukraine. It was the first such move since World War II, and was met with rare protests.
  • And in headlines: demonstrations in Iran continued over a woman who died in police custody, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates again, and a former Minneapolis police officer was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the murder of George Floyd.


Show Notes:



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Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Thursday, September 22nd. I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson. And this is What A Day. Where we’re reaching the point in the Adam Levine Instagram DM scandal where we’re wondering why he never messaged us. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes, obviously it would have shaken me to my core, probably made me delete every app, but I can’t help but feel a little excluded. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I’m not giving up yet. One day I will trap the Maroon 5 thirst. [music break]


Priyanka Aribindi: On today’s show, waves of protests have swept over Iran after a woman died in police custody. Plus, the Federal Reserve delivered another aggressive interest rate hike to tackle inflation. 


Tre’vell Anderson: But first, New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, filed a sweeping civil lawsuit yesterday against former President Donald Trump, his three adult children and the Trump organization. It was the culmination of a three year investigation into their financial dealings in the state. During a press conference announcing the suit, she summed it up like this: 


[clip of Letitia James] The complaint demonstrates that Donald Trump falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to unjustly enrich himself and to cheat the system, thereby cheating all of us. 


Priyanka Aribindi: She has a great voice. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I know. That’s right. Priyanka, can you walk us through what’s going on here? We’ve been following this for a little minute at this point. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. So according to the complaint here, Trump lied about the value of many of his real estate holdings, including Mar-a-Lago, for years. And he did this in order to get bigger loans, better insurance policies, and to lower his taxes. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Gotcha. So he’s accused of inflating his net worth by billions of dollars. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Tre’vell Anderson: That sounds pretty on brand to me. I feel like we knew that already. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: But what is Letitia James trying to get from this lawsuit? 


Priyanka Aribindi: The complaint gives over 200 examples of alleged fraud over the course of at least a decade. So among other things, she is seeking about $250 million dollars in penalties. And she wants Trump and his adult children to be permanently banned from operating a business in the state of New York. 


Tre’vell Anderson: That seems huge to me. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Pretty significant. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Especially since they’re always talking about their businesses and their real estate and all of that. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Real girl bosses over there. [laughter]


Tre’vell Anderson: Let’s quickly talk about Trump’s reaction to the suit. I’m sure he lost it. Okay, because that’s what he does, right? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Can you tell us? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So in the least surprising news of all time, Trump is reportedly livid. He is digging into his usual defense that he did nothing wrong. He went on Fox News yesterday. He posted up a storm on Truth social. He called the suit a, quote, “bullshit dem witch hunt”. You’d think that maybe, you know, we would get a little more of original name. But no, we’re we’re still sticking with witch hunt. Uh. He also called James, who is a Black woman racist. So go figure out there. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. 


Priyanka Aribindi: To learn a little bit more about its case and its broader implications though, I spoke with Nikki McCann Ramírez. She is a politics reporter at Rolling Stone and has been following this particular probe. 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: Attorney General James started investigating the Trump organization while Trump was still president. And we’ve been seeing kind of the trickle of her findings throughout the end of his presidency. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: The last couple of years. Really. I think the most interesting thing is that now we get to see some of the details of what those specific financial dealings, what specific fraud took place. I think some of the highlights for me were the fact that Mar-a-Lago was over evaluated by what the attorney general says was about $600 million dollars. Trump, in one instance, tripled the size of his apartment to give it more kind of like square footage value. But that’s obviously something you can measure. You can measure the square footage of an apartment. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: If you’re committing fraud. There are other, less obvious ways. Um. Don’t commit fraud. [laughter] And of course, you know, I think one of the biggest things that Attorney General James is looking into is how those over valuations were taken to banks and then used to secure loans. One of the big things that will come up in this lawsuit is the Trump Hotel in D.C., which is no longer the Trump Hotel because they sold it for a profit. But the loans that were used to pay for that hotel when they first purchased it were allegedly acquired using fraudulent information from the Trump Organization. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Got it. Okay. So this civil case seems complicated, but why is Letitia James so adamant about filing it now? 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: Yeah. Attorney General James spoke to this in her press conference announcing the lawsuit. And one of the things she emphasized is that while white collar crimes, financial crimes may kind of seem a little esoteric, a little above the day to day realities of working class people, the reality is that these kinds of crimes harm the communities they take place in. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: Because and especially in this case. If you are committing financial fraud, be it with banks, with insurers, in your taxes, a lot of times that means that there is tax revenue, resources, opportunities that should have gone to the community, to working class people that are no longer available to them. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: In a secondary mode, what it does it also, not prosecuting these cases, allowing this kind of fraud to stand or to go unchecked creates a two tiered system of justice, because if a regular middle class, blue collar working person went to a bank and lied about their assets to get a loan, be it for a car, for a house, the government would throw the book at them, no questions asked. The IRS would be down your neck. You could probably go to jail. And there should be no difference. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: In the way we treat these billionaires who are the people that have access to amounts of money that can reshape a community and allow them to get away with that kind of fraud. And I think it’s really important, regardless of kind of the reasoning behind this lawsuit, regardless of really the final outcome, ensuring that prosecutors, attorney generals, not just in New York but throughout the country, put a little bit of pressure on people making major financial transactions, engaging in big commercial adventures and real estate deals for them to feel that pressure. But there is like the threat of consequences. I think that’s very important. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, definitely. So a big part of this centers on, you know, how Trump deliberately inflated how much of his company’s assets and properties were worth. But what are the stakes for him here with this lawsuit? What could happen? 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: First of all, he’s livid. The stakes here are also that Trump no longer has the cover of being president. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: To kind of protect himself from these lawsuits. If you’ve been following him post-presidency, you know that protection from criminal scrutiny, civil prosecution is still something that’s very much on his mind. That was one of the like big benefits he had throughout the presidency, that there was not a lot of existing legal precedent for how to like try a sitting president. So now he sees the writing on the wall. He has this lawsuit. He has two separate Department of Justice investigations, one related to Mar-a-Lago, one related to efforts to overturn the election in various states. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: There is many right now. 


Priyanka Aribindi: There’s so many. 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: But. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s impossible to keep track. 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: There’s so many. And I think it’s also important to remember here that this isn’t the first time the Trump Organization has faced this kind of scrutiny. We know the Trump Organization has a very long history of kind of trying to skirt around laws, of shady business dealings. And as much as Donald Trump wants to call this a witch hunt, a lot of these actions predate his presidency. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. So you just outlined the several investigations and things that are going on in Trump world. What happens next with this particular one and will this particular case be difficult to prove? 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: I expect that we’re going to probably see some counter filings, someone [?] from the Trump organization. I think one of the things that Donald Trump’s lawyers love to do is stall. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: Um. We’re seeing it right now with the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation. They really– 


Priyanka Aribindi: Mm hmm. 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: –Pushed for a special master in that investigation. And that has kind of backfired a little. In terms of white collar crime. White collar crime is always a little difficult to litigate because a lot of times these valuations put in kind of a monetary amount on how much a property is worth or how much like a specific business is worth is often subjective. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: It depends a lot on the criteria of the evaluations. But if you have one thing you’re telling investors and you have another thing you’re telling, you know your tax guy when tax season comes around and those numbers are significantly different, well, either one or neither of those numbers is true. So I think– 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: –Prosecutors are going to try and focus on that kind of hard discrepancy. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: And we’ll see where it leads. I think Attorney General James has, if anything, been extremely patient with this case. She’s been dealing with it for three years. She’s not one to let things go. So it might take a while, but I think we’ll see incremental progress now that it’s being litigated. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That was my conversation with Nikki McCann Ramírez. She is a politics reporter at Rolling Stone. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Thank you so much for that, Priyanka. Now on to an update on the war in Ukraine. Hide your sons and hide your husbands and all of the mens’ too. Because on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a partial military mobilization. It’s the country’s first since World War Two. That basically means there’s a draft in place for some male citizens of the country who now don’t know the hour or the day when they might get called up for duty. Reports are already saying that police in different cities are barring men from trying to leave the country. They’re literally searching cars and turning people around at checkpoints. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Wow. 


Tre’vell Anderson: But according to Russia’s defense minister, the draft right now is limited to those with experience as professional soldiers and that students and conscripts would not be called up. But they are aiming to add 300,000 reservists to send them to Ukraine. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Okay. So this is a big deal, very different than what’s been happening up until now. Why is this happening? Can you tell us a little more about why Putin is making this decision? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. So, you know, as we’ve mentioned on the show before, Ukraine has been regaining ground over the last couple weeks and doing so very fast. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: This turn was kind of unexpected, right? Because after nearly seven months, it seemed like Russia had the upper hand. And then, you know, Ukraine came out of nowhere and was like, now, wait a minute, we’re still here. We’re still fighting back. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Nikki McCann Ramírez: And so now Russia needs to find more manpower, hence the mobilization. But what’s also alarming is a very much not subtle threat that Putin made. In that same address Wednesday, Putin accused NATO states of threatening to use nuclear weapons against Russia, which is not true. He then said that those countries should know that, quote, “the weather vane can turn towards them” and that, quote, “When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people”. It’s not a bluff. 


Priyanka Aribindi: All right I don’t think my eyebrows can raise any higher. This is a little bit terrifying. So the U.S., along with other countries, are huge supporters and allies of Ukraine. How has our government responded to this? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Well, President Biden called the threats reckless and irresponsible and he called the invasion part of Putin’s, quote, “imperial ambitions”. Here is Biden speaking to the United Nations General Assembly yesterday in New York. 


[clip of President Joe Biden] This war is about extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state. Plain and simple. And Ukraine’s right to exist as a people. Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe, that should make your blood run cold. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, it certainly does. Especially when he puts it like that. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Definitely. But there’s one other thing I wanted to know from Putin’s address. In addition to instituting the draft, he also mentioned that Moscow would support separatist leaders in four Ukrainian enclaves as they stage referendums to join Russia. This is supposed to be happening this week, starting on Friday through Tuesday in statelets in Ukraine’s Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions. These, by the way, are regions in which Ukraine has been gaining ground over the last couple of weeks. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Now, the votes, if they happen, would be illegal under both Ukrainian and International law. But it doesn’t seem like, you know, Russia is caring about any of that. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, it doesn’t seem to have stopped them before. So. Okay. How are Russian citizens responding to this combination of like sham elections and also, you know, the possibility that they might be called up to fight? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Well, let’s just say that when this announcement came down, the price of one way flights out of Russia skyrocketed and flights to neighboring countries that don’t require Russians to have visas, they sold out. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Not surprising. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Right. Right. So in addition to people trying to get the hell up out of dodge. Protests broke out. Right now, demonstrations in Russia aren’t too common because free speech is not protected there. You know, so much so that the Moscow prosecutor’s office hearing that there were calls online for folks to get out in the streets, they even reminded citizens that participation in, quote unquote, “unauthorized street protests could result in up to 15 years in jail”. They also said that folks could be prosecuted for discrediting the military and for spreading, quote unquote, “fake news” about the so-called special military operation in Ukraine. That’s what they call it. They don’t call it a war or an invasion. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: But people did take to the streets across Russia, nonetheless. And according to the independent protest monitoring group OVD-info, more than 1300 people were detained during protests. By the time of our recording Wednesday night. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, that is incredibly brave of these people to stand up in a country that, you know, absolutely does not support them, does not support anyone speaking out, saying the truth. I hope that these people, these 1300 people who are detained are safe. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Definitely. So more on all of this very soon because we know Russia will continue to do what it has been doing. But that is the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads. 




Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Wednesday marked the fifth day of violent clashes between anti-government demonstrators and police in Iran since the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22 year old woman who recently died in police custody. Amini was arrested last week by Iran’s, quote unquote, “morality police”. They’re a unit that enforces the country’s strict Islamic dress code requiring women to wear hijabs or headscarves in public. They accused Amini of wearing her hijab too loosely. And a few days after her arrest, she died. Authorities say that she suffered a heart attack, but her family believes that she was beaten to death in their custody. Amini’s death has sparked massive outrage, especially among Iranian women who are tired of living under their country’s oppressive laws. Many of them have even taken to the streets in several cities to remove their hijabs and burn them in protest. According to human rights groups, at least seven protesters have been killed in clashes with police. Meanwhile, senior Iranian officials have promised a full investigation into Amini’s death. 


Tre’vell Anderson: The Federal Reserve raised interest rates yet again on Wednesday, this time by three quarters of a percentage point. This is the fourth time the central bank has raised its rates this year alone. All in an effort to combat inflation. But experts worry that we don’t have enough data to know whether these rate hikes are actually helping the economy and that increasing the interest rate even further and doing so too quickly could bring us closer to a recession. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Uh oh. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Still, the Fed is expected to raise interest rates two more times before the end of the year. 


Priyanka Aribindi: A former Minneapolis police officer was sentenced to three years in prison yesterday for his role in the murder of George Floyd. Thomas Lane had pleaded guilty to a state charge of aiding and abetting second degree manslaughter. He is already serving a 30 month sentence in a federal prison in Colorado for violating Floyd’s civil rights. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Walmart and CVS agreed to settle their opioid lawsuits with the state of West Virginia on Wednesday for over $147 million dollars. The suit was filed by State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who alleged that the two pharmacy chains fueled his state’s opioid epidemic by contributing to the oversupply of opioids in the state. West Virginia has been hit especially hard by the opioid crisis over the years. According to the CDC, the state has the highest overdose death rate in the country, and every year thousands of those deaths are attributed to opioids. Meanwhile, Walgreens and Kroger are set to stand trial next year for their role in West Virginia’s opioid epidemic unless they agree to settle before then as well. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That sounds like a lot of money. It is a lot of money, but there is no amount of money in the world that can undo what–


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. 


Priyanka Aribindi: The opioid epidemic has done to this country and our world. Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, is learning the risks of playing politics with people’s lives. On Tuesday, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the nearly 50 Venezuelan migrants who were flown by DeSantis from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. The suit alleges that the callous act of political theater violated the Fourth and the 14th Amendment rights of these individuals and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And if you thought we reached the bottom of the ethical black hole inside Ron DeSantis, The Intercept has some bad news for you. They reported yesterday that the aviation firm that Ron DeSantis hired to transport the migrants has contributed exclusively to Republican causes, including Republicans in Florida. They received over $600,000 in taxpayer money for the job, which I’m sure um was given to them just completely randomly and not because they uh donated to this man. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Why would they do that Priyanka? 


Priyanka Aribindi: No, no. [laughter] Certainly certainly couldn’t happen that way. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely not. And another update from the political party of alpha males who eat meat and protect their wives and don’t let their sons cry. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Whoo. [sigh] 


Tre’vell Anderson: A Republican congressional candidate from Ohio apparently lied about his military service. His name is J.R. Majewski, and he’s famous for speaking up in support of Q Anon, turning his lawn into a big painted Trump flag, and at least one semi viral pro-Trump rap video. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Wow. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Maybe the thing he hasn’t gotten enough credit for is his storytelling skills, because according to an AP report yesterday, his claims of having done an Air Force tour in Afghanistan are untrue. And in reality, he mostly served in Japan and spent six months helping to load planes in Qatar. Majewski has said harsh conditions in Afghanistan forced him to go 40 days without a shower. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Excuse me. [laughter]


Tre’vell Anderson: Which is the exact type of detail fiction writers use to hook their audience. We’ll let you decide which of Majewski’s crimes is worse though, stealing military valor or stealing rap valor like he does here. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Oh, God. 


[clip of J.R. Majewski rapping] They want to make us woke and force us to get the vax, if they think pictures with the pope will get us to all relax, not to poke fun at dementia, it’s a serious disease. But come on, man, squeeze your cheeks when you sneeze. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Squeeze your cheeks when you sneeze Priyanka. 


Priyanka Aribindi: What? Excuse me. Okay. I was going to say, this man definitely in the wrong field. Why is he pursuing congressional office? I was going to say he has maybe a future in uh music after listening to that. Absolutely no. Go the fiction route. I think, you know, you’re a very creative soul, clearly. Yeah. Why don’t why don’t you try to write a little bit? That could be nice for you. 


Tre’vell Anderson: You know, I will give credit to whoever made the beat. 


Priyanka Aribindi: The beat was pretty good. 


Tre’vell Anderson:  It’s a cute beat.


Priyanka Aribindi: The beat was pretty good.


Tre’vell Anderson: It’s a cute beat!


Priyanka Aribindi: Which is unfortunate for both of us. But uh the lyrics, if you take two and a half seconds to listen to what he is saying, it is cringe as hell. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And those are the headlines. 


Tre’vell Anderson: One more thing before we go. A whole new batch of progressive merch just dropped at the Crooked store. We’ve got tees and hats and some new bumper stickers, too, so you can show where you stand on reproductive rights and cancelling student debt even when you’re sitting in traffic on that 405 okay. We know. Head over to the Crooked store and go ahead and pick out something to wear to the voting booth or your morning coffee run or wherever. You all know how T-shirts work. Check it out at Crooked.com/store. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review, mow a lawn with Trump’s face on it and tell your friends to listen. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And if you’re into reading and not just the lyrics to anti Trump raps like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


[spoken together] And DM us while you still can Adam Levine. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I don’t know if there’s a DM rehab, but this man’s certainly going. 


Tre’vell Anderson: So hit us up while you still can. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I mean, I don’t think I have anything to say to you, but like, it would be fun to show my friends. 


Tre’vell Anderson: You know, to tell my grandchildren about. [music break]


Priyanka Aribindi: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein and our executive producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.