By MICHAEL R. SISAK, JAKE OFFENHARTZ and JENNIFER PELTZ (Associated Press)
NEW YORK (AP) — Aggrieved and defiant, former President Donald Trump sat by way of hours of generally testy opening statements Monday in a fraud lawsuit that might value him management of Trump Tower and different prized properties.
“Disgraceful trial,” he declared throughout a lunch break, after listening to legal professionals for New York Attorney General Letitia James excoriate him as a routine liar. The state’s lawsuit accuses the business-mogul-turned-politician and his firm of deceiving banks, insurers and others by misstating his wealth for years in monetary statements.
“They were lying year after year after year,” Kevin Wallace, a lawyer in James’ workplace, mentioned as Trump sat on the protection desk. He appeared straight forward, arms crossed, going through away from a display screen that confirmed particulars of Wallace’s presentation.
Defense legal professionals, in response, mentioned the monetary statements have been reliable. Trump’s holdings are “Mona Lisa properties” that may command prime greenback, lawyer Alina Habba mentioned.
“That is not fraud. That is real estate,” she mentioned, accusing the lawyer common’s workplace of “setting a very dangerous precedent for all business owners in the state of New York.”
Trump voluntarily attended a trial that he known as a “sham,” a “scam,” a waste of the state’s time and “a continuation of the single greatest witch hunt of all time.” Currently the Republican front-runner within the 2024 presidential race, he reiterated claims that James, a Democrat, is attempting to thwart his bid to return to the White House.
“What we have here is an attempt to hurt me in an election,” he mentioned exterior court docket, including: “I don’t think the people of this country are going to stand for it.”
Trump sneered at James as he handed her on his approach out at lunchtime; she, by flip, left smiling. Meanwhile, his marketing campaign instantly started fundraising off the looks.
Judge Arthur Engoron dominated final week that Trump dedicated fraud in his enterprise dealings. If upheld on attraction, the ruling may pressure Trump to surrender New York properties together with Trump Tower, a Wall Street workplace constructing, golf programs and a suburban property. Trump has known as it a “a corporate death penalty” and insisted the choose is unfair and out to get him.
The non-jury trial issues six remaining claims within the lawsuit, together with allegations of conspiracy, falsifying enterprise information and insurance coverage fraud. Engoron mentioned that neither aspect sought a jury and that state legislation doesn’t enable for juries when fits search not solely cash however a court docket order setting out one thing a defendant should do or not do.
James is looking for $250 million in penalties and a ban on Trump doing enterprise in New York.
“No matter how powerful you are, and no matter how much money you think you have, no one is above the law,” she mentioned on her approach into the courthouse.
Trump denies wrongdoing. He says that James and the choose are undervaluing such belongings as his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, and he emphasizes that his monetary statements had a disclaimer that claims they shouldn’t be trusted. The yearly snapshots of his holdings got to banks to safe loans and to monetary magazines to justify his place among the many world’s billionaires.
The former president, his two eldest sons, Trump Organization executives and lawyer-turned-foe Michael Cohen are all listed amongst dozens of potential witnesses.
Trump isn’t anticipated to testify for a number of weeks. His journey to court docket Monday marked a exceptional departure from his previous apply.
Trump didn’t go to court docket as both a witness or a spectator when his firm and one among its prime executives was convicted of tax fraud final 12 months. He didn’t present, both, for a civil trial earlier this 12 months through which a jury discovered him responsible for sexually assaulting the author E. Jean Carroll in a division retailer dressing room.
This time, “I wanted to watch this witch hunt myself,” he mentioned exterior court docket.
In a latest court docket submitting, James’ workplace alleged Trump exaggerated his wealth by as a lot as $3.6 billion.
He claimed his three-story Trump Tower penthouse, replete with gold-plated fixtures, was practically thrice its precise measurement and value $327 million, way over any New York City house ever has fetched, James mentioned. He valued Mar-a-Lago as excessive as $739 million — greater than 10 instances a extra affordable estimate of its price, James maintained.
“Every estimate was determined by Mr. Trump,” Wallace mentioned in his opening assertion. He pointed to pretrial testimony by Trump Organization figures and ex-insiders together with Cohen, who mentioned the corporate estimated belongings to get to a predetermined quantity “that Mr. Trump wanted.”
Wallace mentioned the alleged scheme acquired the corporate higher mortgage charges, saving it $100 million in curiosity.
“They hid their weaknesses and convinced these banks to take on hundreds of millions of dollars in risk,” he mentioned, including: “While the defendants can exaggerate to Forbes magazine or on television, they cannot do it while conducting business in the state of New York.”
Trump lawyer Christopher Kise mentioned protection specialists will testify that assigning values to properties is, by nature, a matter of opinion.
“There is no such thing as objective valuation,” Kise mentioned in a gap assertion.
Any discrepancies in values don’t quantity to fraud, he mentioned, and disclaimers on the monetary statements made clear that these have been estimates and that banks must carry out their very own evaluation.
Trump and his legal professionals have additionally argued that nobody was harmed by something within the monetary statements. Banks that made loans to him have been totally repaid. Business companions made cash. And Trump’s personal firm flourished.
Kise blasted final week’s fraud ruling, telling the choose he shouldn’t have decided earlier than listening to professional trial testimony on property valuations. Engoron, tiring of the protection’s criticism, shot again: “Respectfully, what’s that expression? You’re stalking the dead horse here.”
Testimony started Wednesday afternoon with Donald Bender, a longtime accomplice at accounting agency Mazars LLP, describing how he spent 50 to 60 hours a 12 months making ready Trump’s monetary statements. Mazars reduce ties with Trump final 12 months after James’ workplace raised questions in regards to the statements’ reliability.
James’ lawsuit is one among a number of authorized complications for Trump as he campaigns to return to the White House. He has been indicted 4 instances since March, accused of plotting to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, hoarding labeled paperwork and falsifying enterprise information associated to hush cash paid on his behalf. He has pleaded not responsible to all of the allegations.
The New York fraud trial is anticipated to final into December, Engoron mentioned.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Karen Matthews contributed to this report.
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