NEW YORK – Donald Trump will go on trial Monday on fraud charges in a civil case against him and his family business that could deal a major blow to the former US president’s real estate empire.
Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nominee, 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.
“This is a continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time,” Trump said before entering a state courtroom in downtown Manhattan.
“We have a great company. I’ve built a great company. It’s amazing,” he continued. “It has some of the largest real estate assets in the world. And now I have to appear before a rogue judge.”
Trump, wearing a dark blue suit, a brighter blue tie and an American flag pin on his lapel, again called James, who is black, a “racist” and said the Democrat had a vendetta against him.
The former president plans to attend the first week of the trial, according to a court filing in an unrelated case. He is expected to testify in the case later, a spokesperson said.
“No matter how much money you think you have, no one is above the law,” James told reporters before entering the courtroom. “The law is both powerful and fragile. And today the court will prove our case.”
Alina Habba, a lawyer who has represented Trump, said before entering the courtroom: “We will continue to fight in the hope that there is some degree of law and order. While my trust in the system is wary, I do have faith in Donald. Trump.”
The trial comes a week after the judge presiding over the case found Trump liable for fraud, and will largely concern the sentences he faces.
READ: Explained: What’s at stake in Trump’s civil fraud case?
James is seeking at least $250 million in fines, a permanent ban against Trump and his sons Donald Jr. and Eric to run businesses in New York and a five-year restriction on commercial real estate activities by Trump and his flagship Trump Organization.
Trump has said the case is part of a political witch hunt.
Judge Arthur Engoron ruled last week that James had proven her fraud case against Trump, his two adult sons and ten of his companies.
Engoron described in scathing terms how they arrived at valuations. That included Trump calculating the value of his Trump Tower apartment as if it were three times its actual size.
“A discrepancy of this order of magnitude, where a real estate developer estimates his own living space over decades, can only be considered fraud,” he said.
Trump on Truth Social called the judge’s ratings fraudulent.
Engoron canceled corporate certificates for companies that control pillars of Trump’s empire – including Trump Tower and his New York golf clubs – and said he would appoint receivers to oversee their dissolution.
The ruling affects only a handful of the roughly 500 entities in Trump’s portfolio, but includes some of his most valuable properties.
READ: Trump committed fraud by inflating asset values: judge
No decision has yet been made on how that order will be implemented, but the loss of these valuable assets would be a major blow to Trump’s finances. If Engoron were to introduce fines and business restrictions, that damage would become even greater.
The trial is expected to last until early December. More than 150 people, including Trump, are listed as potential witnesses, but much of the trial is likely to be a battle between experts offering their opinions on financial documents.
James claims Trump harvested hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten savings by “grossly” inflating the value of his assets to get better deals from lenders and insurers.
That included listing his Mar-a-Lago club and Florida residence as worth up to $739 million, even though deed restrictions limited that to $28 million, James said.
The case is one of several legal challenges Trump faces as he campaigns to retake the White House in the 2024 election.
None have eroded his commanding lead over his rivals for the Republican nomination, even as they have exerted a financial squeeze.
Trump, the first sitting or former US president to face criminal charges, faces charges in four separate cases.
He has been charged in Florida for his handling of classified documents as he left office, in Washington DC for his efforts to overturn his loss in the 2020 presidential election, in Georgia for efforts to overturn the election results there, and in New York for hush money payments. to a porn star.
Trump has denied wrongdoing in all four cases and has pleaded not guilty.