Donald Trump arrives at court for New York civil fraud trial

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he arrives at New York State Supreme Court to start the civil fraud trial against him on October 02, 2023 in New York City. Picture: Spencer Platt Getty Images via AFP

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he arrives at New York State Supreme Court to start the civil fraud trial against him on October 02, 2023 in New York City. Picture: Spencer Platt Getty Images via AFP

Published Oct 2, 2023


By Jack Queen

New York – Donald Trump arrived at a New York state court on Monday, where he and his family business are set to stand trial in a civil fraud case that could deal a major blow to the former US president’s property empire.

Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is accused by Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James of inflating the value of his assets by billions of dollars to secure better loan and insurance terms.

“No matter how much money you think you may have, no one is above the law,” James said before entering the courtroom. “The law is both powerful and fragile. And today in court will prove our case.”

Trump plans to attend the first week of trial in state court in Manhattan, according to a court filing in an unrelated case.

A supporter of former US President Donald Trump holds up a US national flag at the Trump Tower, in New York City, on Sunday. Picture: REUTERS David Delgado

He had said in a Sunday night post on his Truth Social platform that he would “fight for my name and reputation against a corrupt and racist Attorney General, Letitia James, who campaigned on 'getting Trump', and a Trump Hating Judge who is unfair, unhinged, and vicious in his pursuit of me”.

The trial comes a week after the judge presiding over the case found Trump liable for fraud, and will largely concern the penalties he must face.

James is seeking at least $250 million (about R4.8 billion) in fines, a permanent ban against Trump and his sons Donald Jr and Eric from running businesses in New York and a five-year restriction on commercial property activities by Trump and his flagship Trump Organization.

Trump has said the case is part of a political witch-hunt.

Justice Arthur Engoron ruled last week that James had proven her fraud case against Trump, his two sons and 10 of his companies.

Engoron described in scathing terms how they made up valuations. That included Trump calculating the value of his flat in Trump Tower as if it were three times its actual size.

“A discrepancy of this order of magnitude, by a real estate developer sizing up his own living space of decades, can only be considered fraud,” he said.

Trump on Truth Social called the judge's valuations fraudulent.

Former President Donald Trump, three of his children and the Trump Organization stand accused of fraud, falsification of business records, issuing false financial statements and conspiracy. Graphic shows Donald Trump’s trial schedule. Graphic: Graphic News

Engoron cancelled business certificates for companies controlling pillars of Trump’s empire – including Trump Tower and his golf clubs in New York – and said he would appoint receivers to oversee their dissolution.

The ruling covers only a handful of the roughly 500 entities in Trump's portfolio but includes some of his most valuable properties.

Specifics of how that order would be implemented have not been decided, but the loss of those prized assets would be a major blow to Trump's finances. If Engoron tacked on fines and business restrictions, that damage would compound.

The trial is scheduled to run until early December. More than 150 people, including Trump, are listed as potential witnesses, but much of the trial will probably be a battle of experts opining on financial documents.

James alleges Trump reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten savings by “grossly” inflating the values of his assets to get better deals from lenders and insurers.

That included listing his Mar-a-Lago club and residence in Florida as being worth up to $739 million even though deed restrictions capped it at $28 million, James said.

Members of the media work outside a New York City courthouse on Monday ahead of the trial of former US President Donald Trump, his adult sons, the Trump Organization and others in a civil fraud case brought by state Attorney General Letitia James. Picture: Eduardo Munoz Reuters

The case is one of several legal headaches Trump faces as he campaigns to retake the White House in the 2024 election.

None has dented his commanding lead over rivals for the Republican nomination, though they have been a financial drain.

Trump, the first sitting or former US president to be criminally charged, is under indictment in four separate cases.

He has been charged in Florida over his handling of classified documents upon leaving office, in Washington DC over his efforts to undo his loss in the 2020 presidential election, in Georgia over moves to reverse election results there, and in New York over hush money payments to a porn star.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty in all four cases.