NEW YORK — Opening statements are underway in former President Donald Trump’s $250 million fraud trial scrutinizing his business practices.
Trump and his co-defendants face a bench trial, meaning that the sole arbiter of the case is Judge Arthur Engoron instead of a jury.
Prosecutors intend to prove in the coming months that “each defendant engaged in repeated, persistent, illegal acts in conduct of business,” according to the opening statement from Kevin Wallace of the attorney general’s office.
Referring to Judge Engoron’s partial summary judgment last week, Wallace said that “the people have already proven” that former President Trump used “false, misleading” statements that were “repeatedly [and] persistently used in the conduct of business.”
But prosecutors will further demonstrate that Trump and his co-defendants knew those statements were false and continued to peddle them anyway in furtherance of their alleged scheme, Wallace told the judge.
“The defendants were lying year after year,” he said.
Wallace played clips of video depositions to punctuate his remarks, including testimony from Trump himself, as well as Eric Trump and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen — whose congressional testimony years ago precipitated the state’s investigation and some of the key allegations underpinning their case.
“The goal was to use each of [Trump’s] assets and increase its value in order to get to the end result number,” Cohen said during his taped deposition. “It was essentially backing in numbers to each of the asset classes in order to attain the number that President Trump wanted.”
Trump and his co-defendants “knew that a high net worth was necessary to get and maintain certain financial benefits,” Wallace said, pointing to basic principles of accounting and finance.
Throughout Wallace’s remarks, the attorney general’s office flashed graphics on television screens inside the courtroom showing some of the alleged inflated values of Trump’s properties alongside the amounts the properties were appraised at.
Trump is seated between his attorneys Clifford Robert, Alina Habba and Christopher Kise.
“The crime is against me,” he told reporters outside the courtroom before he made his way inside.
Trump also accused Judge Engoron of failing to account for the full value of his real estate portfolio, asserting his Mar-a-Lago estate is worth “50 to 100 times more” than the judge’s decision for partial summary judgment said last week.
“We have other properties, the same thing. So he devalued everything,” Trump said. “We have among the greatest properties in the world. and I have to go through this for political reasons.”
Trump has denied wrongdoing, arguing in sworn testimony for the case that it didn’t matter what he put on his financial statements because they have a disclaimer that says they shouldn’t be trusted.
He and his lawyers have also argued that no one was harmed by anything in the financial statements. Banks he borrowed money from were fully repaid. Business partners made money. And Trump’s own company flourished.
James’ lawsuit is one of several legal headaches for Trump as he campaigns for a return to the White House in next year’s election. He has been indicted four times since March, accused of plotting to overturn his 2020 election loss, hoarding classified documents and falsifying business records related to hush money paid on his behalf.
The trial could last into December, Engoron said.