Donald Trump wanted to get higher on the Forbes billionaires list and save a fortune on loan terms by overvaluing his properties, according to documents presented by New York Attorney General Letitia James at the former president’s civil fraud trial.
(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump wanted to get higher on the Forbes billionaires list and save a fortune on loan terms by overvaluing his properties, according to documents presented by New York Attorney General Letitia James at the former president’s civil fraud trial.
Past testimony by Trump organization officials and emails with the Trump family’s bankers were among the first pieces of evidence lawyers for the state pointed to in court to show that the company falsified asset values to get better terms from Deutsche Bank, among others.
Trump sat in the front row of the Manhattan courtroom on Monday flanked by a team of lawyers and Secret Service. He watched as the state played a clip of his former lawyer Michael Cohen testifying that the disputed assets were often valued more to get Trump “higher on the Forbes list.”
“It was basically the number that Mr. Trump wanted,” Cohen said.
The case, brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, alleges that Trump and his company used false asset valuations to inflate his wealth by billions of dollars a year from 2011 to 2021. He is also accused of using false valuations to get cheaper insurance policies. All told, Trump allegedly reaped $250 million in illegal profit.
Trump, wearing a blue suit and blue tie, took a seat in the front of the room, slouching forward with his arms crossed, as Deputy Attorney General Kevin Wallace began delivering his opening statement. Trump’s son, Eric Trump, took a seat in the row behind his father’s. Both Eric and Donald Trump Jr. are defendants in the case.
State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron has already found Trump liable for fraud. The trial will now focus on six remaining claims and the amount of damages owed. The trial will help determine the fate of Trump’s 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.
In turn, Trump’s lawyer said the evidence at trial will show that the claims involve only successful and profitable loan transactions with no victims, and that the banks that lent him the money made more than $100 million in interest.
“President Trump has made billions of dollars building up one of the most successful business empires in the world,” said Chris Kise, a lawyer for Trump.
Kise said Deutsche Bank officers will testify that they conducted independent risk analysis and did not rely on Trump’s statements of financial condition, and that valuation disparities are not considered by the bank to be fraudulent. They’ll also testify that Trump was “overqualified” to do business with them, Kise said.
Read More: Trump’s $250 Million Business Fraud Trial and What’s at Stake
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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Speaking to reporters outside of the courtroom ahead of the trial, Trump described the judge as “rogue” and James “racist,” calling the case “a continuation of the single greatest witch hunt of all time.” Trump said his actual net worth was “substantially more” than what he put on his annual statements of financial condition.
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.
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.”
Read More: Trump’s Business Empire at Risk of Dissolution After Ruling
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.
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.
(Updates story with opening statements from both sides)
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