$148 million damages verdict adds to Rudy Giuliani's financial woes as he awaits his criminal trial in Georgia

Former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani speaks during a news conference outside the federal courthouse in Washington, Friday, Dec. 15, 2023. A jury awarded $148 million in damages on Friday to two former Georgia election workers who sued Giuliani for defamation over lies he spread about them in 2020 that upended their lives with racist threats and harassment. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

A criminal trial awaits Rudy Giuliani in Georgia. He is an alleged unnamed co-conspirator in a federal indictment against Donald Trump. And now he’s been ordered to pay a sum he surely cannot afford.

The $148 million verdict in a defamation case brought by two former Georgia election workers marks a new low point for the man once lauded as “America’s mayor,” whose advocacy of Donald Trump’s false election claims has led to criminal charges and hefty legal bills. And the jury’s verdict could be a troubling sign for Giuliani as he gears up to defend himself against charges in Georgia that could land him behind bars.

“It’s like everything is crashing down on him,” said Nick Akerman, a New York attorney who briefly worked alongside Giuliani in the federal prosecutors’ office there. “He hasn’t come to grips with what he has done to his life. He has completely destroyed himself.”

A defiant Giuliani vowed Friday to appeal, calling the damages award for Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, “absurd.” Outside Washington’s federal courthouse after the verdict, he repeated his claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. And in a video later on X, formerly known as Twitter, he insisted he did nothing wrong, and suggested he will keep pressing his claims even if it means losing all his money or ending up in jail.

“If they want to put me in jail for it, if you want to shoot me for it … you’re not going to get me to lie,” Giuliani said.

It’s the latest chapter in a remarkable story that has taken Giuliani from the cover of Time Magazine as “Person of the Year” in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to being mocked on late night TV and facing legal and financial peril. Some who knew Giuliani when he was a young prosecutor who went on to lead the prominent U.S. attorney’s office in New York’s Southern District say they hardly recognize the man they see on TV today.

“It’s a shame because he had such promise,” said John Flannery, another lawyer who worked alongside Giuliani as a federal prosecutor. “He was a very smart lawyer. He was very helpful to everybody in the office.”

Ted Goodman, a political adviser to Giuliani, declined to comment on Saturday on the state of the former mayor’s finances. But he said Giuliani has had “a positive impact on more people than almost anyone in public service.”

“The Rudy Giuliani you see today is the same man who took down the Mafia, cleaned up New York City, and comforted the nation following September 11th,” Goodman said.

Giuliani has pleaded not guilty in the criminal case in Georgia, which accuses him of participating in a wide-ranging conspiracy to thwart the will of Georgia’s voters who had selected Democrat Joe Biden over the Republican incumbent. He faces 13 charges, including violation of Georgia’s anti-racketeering law, the federal version of which was one of his favorite tools as prosecutor in the 1980s.

He has called the indictment a “travesty,” and argues he had every right to question what he believed to be election fraud. He is also one of the co-conspirators listed in the federal case charging Trump with illegally working to overturn the results of the election, but Giuliani is not charged in that case.

The damages award in the defamation case followed emotional testimony from the election workers, who described receiving a barrage of racist and graphic threats after they became the targets of a false conspiracy pushed by Giuliani and other Trump allies.

Giuliani had already been found liable in the case and he had conceded in court documents that he falsely accused the women of fraud. His lawyer had appealed for “compassion and sympathy,” telling jurors: “I want you to remember this is a great man.”

It’s unclear whether the women will ever receive the sum of money. Even so, the verdict appeared to be a strong repudiation of false election fraud claims that are now central to the criminal cases against Trump — including the one brought by special counsel Jack Smith that jurors will hear in the same federal courthouse.

“If I were Donald Trump, I’d be scared out of my bejesus here, because if a jury like this in Washington, D.C., nails Rudy to the wall like they did yesterday, you can imagine what’s going to happen when that trial goes forward,” Akerman said.

The election workers’ case is the latest effort to hold public figures accountable in court for pushing conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was ordered last year to pay Sandy Hook families nearly $1.5 billion for defamation and infliction of emotional stress for calling the 2012 Newtown school shooting a hoax staged by crisis actors to increase gun control. The verdicts, which are being appealed, led Jones and his media company to file for bankruptcy protection.

And earlier this year, Fox News agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems nearly $800 million to avert a trial in the voting machine company’s lawsuit that would have exposed how the network promoted lies about the 2020 election.

Giuliani is facing a slew of other lawsuits, including another defamation case filed by Dominion in 2021. He was also sued in September by a former lawyer who claimed Giuliani had paid only a fraction of more than $1 million in legal fees racked up from investigations into his efforts to keep Trump in the White House. In May, a woman who said she worked for Giuliani sued him alleging he owed her nearly $2 million in unpaid wages and he had coerced her into sex. Giuliani has denied the allegations.

In August court hearing in another case, one of Giuliani’s lawyer suggested that the former mayor was “close to broke,” and unable to pay a number of bills — including a $12,000 to $18,000 tab for a company to search through his electronic records for evidence relating to voting machine company Smartmatic’s defamation lawsuit against him, Fox News and others.

“It’s Shakespearean. I mean, it’s exactly the kind of thing that Shakespeare would write,” Flannery said. “And it would be tragic, obviously.”

Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press writers Michael R. Sisak in New York and David Collins in Hartford, Connecticut contributed to this report.