A visibly angry Donald Trump appeared in a New York courtroom for the start of a bank fraud trial that has already sentenced his real estate empire to death.
A little after 10 a.m., Trump and his son Eric walked into court, surrounded by his large team of defense lawyers and a cadre of Secret Service agents. Trump, wearing a dark blue suit and a scowl, slowly made his way to his seat at the front of the courtroom. New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose investigators will make the case that the former president’s lies violated laws meant to maintain a fair and honest marketplace, sat in the front row behind her team of lawyers who have been digging into Trump’s faked personal financial statements for more than three years.
Justice Arthur F. Engoron, who oversaw bitter court fights during the investigation and had to repeatedly reprimand defense lawyers—and even fined the former president himself $110,000—commenced the long-awaited trial with a warm “good morning.”
“One thing I know a lot about is the legal definition of fraud,” Engoron began, explaining the history of the state’s Executive Law § 63(12), the law the AG is now using to clamp down on the Trumps’ lies in business deals.
The trial, which is scheduled to run from Oct. 2 until late December, caps off an intense effort by state law enforcement to show how Trump vastly overstated the values of his Monopoly board of properties across the country to snag better bank loans and insurance policies. On the eve of trial, the judge awarded the AG a massive victory by declaring that Trump had indeed engaged in bank fraud—stripping several of the mogul’s corporations of their business licenses and ripping away his life’s work by ordering the famous Trump Organization into receivership.
But the trial will continue anyway, as the AG is still seeking to punish the Trump family and top executives by pounding them with $250 million or more in fines.
Monday marked the first time that Trump, who has spent months railing against this judge in public, appeared in front of Engoron.
The trial also marks the start of a long series of court battles that threaten to imprison the former president, drain his bank accounts, and derail his campaign to return to the White House in 2024. Once this civil trial ends, he then needs to appear in New York federal court for a second iteration of a rape case, a criminal trial in Washington for attempting a coup in 2021, a criminal trial in Manhattan for faking business papers, a criminal trial in Georgia where he is charged with attempting to overthrow that state's 2020 election results, and a criminal trial in South Florida for hoarding classified documents at his oceanside mansion Mar-a-Lago.
Although Trump was not required to appear in person this week, he ran the risk of being found in contempt of court in yet another court case—against his former lawyer, Michael Cohen. He claimed to be unavailable for depositions on Monday and Tuesday in that case, citing the AG’s bank fraud trial, so he is expected to appear both days in New York City.
In some ways, the AG’s office is picking up where the Manhattan District Attorney left off. Last year, a New York jury convicted the Trump Organization of tax fraud—resulting in a $1.6 million fine. But that was a relative slap on the wrist to the company. Only its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, served time at the dreaded Rikers Island jail.
By contrast, state investigators on Monday began a presentation portraying the company’s top executives as the villains behind another round of deceit—this time, faking Trump’s personal financial statements from 2011 until 2021 by claiming space that didn’t exist and inflating assets that did.
AG senior enforcement counsel Kevin Wallace noted how Trump and his sons, company executives Don Jr. and Eric, certified to Deutsche Bank that the financial statements were accurate when they were not.
“None of the defendants are taking responsibility,” Wallace said, showing snippets of depositions in which investigators questioned Trump’s adult sons and Weisselberg.