Already drowning in legal trouble from his recent arrest and two other potential criminal indictments on the horizon, former President Donald Trump continues to delay the New York attorney general’s attempt to bankrupt him—this time, by finding Republican-friendly accountants in Texas.
His family company, the Trump Organization, was forced to scramble and find new accountants early last year amid accusations it regularly faked business records to inflate assets. The shunned Trumps settled on Whitley Penn, a relatively unknown accounting firm that doesn’t even rank among the “Big Four”—not even among the big four in North Texas.
But a potential reason Trump selected Whitley Penn became obvious to AG Letitia James’ investigators last month, when the small firm made clear it wouldn’t simply comply with her team’s subpoenas in New York seeking information about the Trump Organization’s latest finances.
In a March 23 letter, Whitley Penn’s lawyer cited “constraints imposed by confidentiality obligations” and explained how Texas law shields clients from undue intrusions of privacy.
Claiming that it “takes no position on the outcome here,” the Texas accounting firm serving as the Trumps’ “independent auditor” said it would only turn over records “if the Trump Organization consents” or if a judge steps in.
Luckily for James, a judge just did that.
New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur F. Engoron—a judge who has grown exasperated at Trump’s delay tactics and had to intervene half a dozen times to force the former American president to comply with the most basic legal processes—issued an order Friday compelling Whitley Penn to turn over the relevant documents.
In a single year, Engoron has ordered Trump to show up to his deposition at the AG’s office, slapped him with a $110,000 fine for not turning over records, forced him to share documents, and repeatedly batted down attempts to get him replaced as judge.
And so on April 7, Engoron weighed in yet again—this time signing off on an agreement between the AG’s office and Trump’s lawyers that permits the accounting firm to turn over records—and get a certified public accountant to answer investigators’ questions.
The AG’s Office now expects Whitley Penn to hand over what it requested in its Feb. 14 subpoena: any agreement it has with the Trumps, as well as copies of any internal Trump Organization documents it has inspected to prepare the company’s financial statements. Investigators also want any communications Whitley Penn had with the accountants it replaced over at MazarsUSA.
Those communications could prove pivotal, after MazarsUSA ditched the Trump Organization once it became clear that Trump’s financial statements were based, at times, on nothing more than his own self-aggrandizing bluster.
While respectable accountants normally stand by their assessments and number crunching, MazarsUSA placed an alarming disclaimer on Trump’s financial documents, saying its CPAs “have not audited or reviewed the accompanying financial statement,” leaving a gaping hole for accountability. AG investigators may soon discover if Trump’s new outside auditors have the same conveniently cozy and lazy arrangement.
Whitley Penn’s lawyer in New York City, Christopher E. Duffy, did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did the Trump Organization nor the AG’s Office.
But these documents could be pivotal for investigators to see whether the Trumps continue to overstate the value—and even the physical size—of the properties they own across the country.
In September, James sued Trump for $250 million for “persistent and repeated fraud” in a lawsuit that seeks to kill off his company and bar its executives from running businesses in New York. Her civil lawsuit is a mirror image of a criminal investigation that was originally led by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, though prosecutors there have opted instead to pursue separate charges over the way he allegedly faked business records to hide a hush money payment to a porn star to keep quiet about his extramarital affair.
James’ case against Trump is scheduled to go to trial in October, one of the many trials he faces between now and the general election in 2024. Trump launched a presidential bid last year to return to the White House for a second term, though he’ll go through several rounds of legal hell on the way toward the finish line. James’ lawsuit threatens to siphon nearly $1 billion from the real estate tycoon, which would severely harm his reputation and spending power in the coming months.
Although it’s civil in nature, James’ fraud investigation might still uncover evidence that could be handed over to Manhattan criminal prosecutors. Trump is scheduled to be deposed by AG investigators in New York on Thursday, which would mark the second time this former head of state would have to answer the AG’s questions under oath. Last time, he tried to pull a power move and shift the meeting at the last minute away from the AG’s offices in Lower Manhattan over to his more comfortable digs at Trump Tower—something The Daily Beast exposed last September.
In their recent subpoena, investigators expressed an interest in interviewing Camron Harris, a CPA and “audit partner” at Whitley Penn. Harris did not respond to questions on Monday.
The small Texas firm’s co-founder and chief financial officer, Jim Penn, has a long history of giving to Republican political campaigns and has contributed more than $53,000 to the GOP since just 2020. He was the first person at his firm to donate to Trump’s 2016 campaign, and he did it again the next time around.
The Daily Beast