Trump Arrives at Manhattan Court for Start of Civil Fraud Trial

Donald Trump arrived at New York state court in Manhattan on Monday flanked by a team of lawyers and Secret Service agents for the start of a contentious civil trial over whether he misled banks about his assets.

(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump arrived at New York state court in Manhattan on Monday flanked by a team of lawyers and Secret Service agents for the start of a contentious civil trial over whether he misled banks about his assets.

Trump’s attendance wasn’t mandatory and hadn’t been expected until just a few days ago, and the embattled former president isn’t expected to speak in court until later in the trial when he is called to testify. But his appearance carries a certain symbolic weight, especially as he rarely attends his civil litigation. 

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who sued last year, alleges that Trump and his company used false asset valuations to inflate his wealth by billions of dollars a year from 2011 to 2021, tricking Deutsche Bank AG and other lenders into giving him better terms on loans. He is also accused of using false valuations to get cheaper insurance policies. All told, Trump allegedly reaped $250 million in illegal profit.

State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, who oversees the trial, has already found Trump liable for fraud. The trial will now focus on six remaining claims and the amount of damages owed. It will help determine the fate of his real estate empire in New York and marks the first of a slew of others, including four criminal trials, that lie ahead even as Trump, 77, runs in the 2024 presidential election.

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Trump will be there as his accuser’s team delivers an opening statement kicking off the non-jury trial. In turn, his lawyers may hope his attendance adds heft to their own opening remarks. And he is there to face judge Engoron, whom he has called a “Trump hater” for ruling against him throughout the case. Trump has frequently attacked Engoron on social media, particularly after the judge held him in contempt of court last year for failing to respond to a subpoena, resulting in $110,000 in fines.

First of Many Trials

Trump faces at least one other civil trial next year, as well as trials in four prosecutions accusing him of a wide variety of criminal conduct, from mishandling classified documents to trying to overturn the result of the 2020 election. The Republican front-runner in the 2024 presidential race, he denies wrongdoing and claims all the cases are part of a “witch hunt” to undermine his bid to return to the White House. 

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In a post on his social media platform Truth Social on Sunday, Trump said he was “going to court tomorrow morning to fight for my name and reputation” against a “corrupt” system, calling the case a “sham.”

Engoron scheduled the New York trial to last until Dec. 22. The first witness is expected to be Donald Bender, a partner at Trump’s former accounting firm Mazars. Trump will testify toward the end of the trial, according to a list of witnesses.

Fraud Finding

Last week the judge granted New York’s request to hold Trump liable on the fraud claim, concluding that the evidence of his use of false and misleading asset valuations was so strong that a trial on that allegation wasn’t necessary. 

The ruling resolved the state’s biggest claim in the case, focusing the trial on its remaining six, including falsifying business records, issuing false financial statements, insurance fraud and conspiracy allegations corresponding with those.

James said in a statement Monday morning that the state had already won “the foundation of our case” with the court’s fraud finding and that New York looked forward to “demonstrating the full extent of his fraud and illegality during trial.”

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500 Entities

The trial will also determine penalties. The attorney general seeks $250 million in restitution and a ban on Trump and the other defendants — including Trump’s sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump — from serving as officers of any New York-based company, as well as other penalties.

Trump has argued the lenders and others knew to take his own valuations as just that, and to conduct their own analyses. 

The judge’s earlier ruling required the cancellation of certificates for companies that hold those assets, a process that will be overseen by a court-approved receiver. The Trump Organization is made up of some 500 entities, and the scope and impact of Engoron’s order remain unclear.

The case is New York v. Trump, 452564/2022, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan). 

–With assistance from Laura Nahmias.

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