Former US President Donald Trump made a gain of over $100 million by lying about the value of his real estate empire, prosecuting lawyer Kevin Wallace said on Monday.
The trial in a downtown Manhattan courtroom concerns accusations by state Attorney General Letitia James that Trump inflated his assets and his own net worth from 2011 to 2021 to obtain favourable bank loans and lower insurance premiums.
James is seeking at least $250 million in fines, a permanent ban against Trump and his sons Donald Jr and Eric from running businesses in New York and a five-year commercial real estate ban against Trump and the Trump Organization.
Trump looked on with his arms crossed as Wallace, a lawyer in James’ office, called Trump “materially inaccurate” in describing his finances to banks and insurers.
“This isn’t business as usual, and this isn’t how sophisticated parties deal with each other,” Wallace said in his opening statement.
“These are not victimless crimes.”
The attorney general has said Trump overvalued assets including his Trump Tower penthouse apartment in Manhattan, his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and various office towers and golf clubs, and inflated his own fortune by as much as $2.2 billion.
Christopher Kise, a lawyer for Trump, countered in his opening statement that the financials for Trump and the Trump organization were entirely legal.
“It is one of the most highly successful brands in the world, and he has made a fortune literally being right about real estate investments,” Kise said. “There was no intent to defraud, there was no illegality, there was no default, there was no breach, there was no reliance from the banks, there were no unjust profits, and there were no victims.”
Trump who holds a commanding lead over rivals for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, told reporters before entering the courtroom that the case was a “scam,” a “sham,” and “a continuation of the single greatest witch hunt of all time.
“We have a great company. I built a great company. It’s tremendous,” Trump said. “It’s got some of the greatest real estate assets in the world. And now I have to go in before a rogue judge.”
James said her office was ready to prove its case.
“The law is both powerful and fragile,” she said before entering the courtroom. “No matter how much money you think you may have, no one is above the law.”
Trump’s trial is overseen by Justice Arthur Engoron, who will hear evidence without a jury. Testimony is expected to begin on Monday afternoon.
The case largely concerns penalties that Trump, his adult sons and 10 of his companies must face after Engoron last week found them liable for fraud.
In his Sept. 26 decision, Engoron described in scathing terms how the defendants made up valuations.
He said this included valuing the Trump Tower apartment as if it were three times its actual size, and estimating that Mar-a-Lago was worth up to $739 million though deed restrictions capped it at $28 million.
The judge canceled business certificates for companies controlling pillars of Trump’s empire, and said he would appoint receivers to oversee their dissolution.
Trump responded by calling Engoron “deranged.