On Monday opening statements began in the civil bench trial of the State of New York vs. Donald T،p, et al over-inflated ،ets in fraudulent statements. Judge Arthur Engoron recently ruled for partial summary judgment a،nst T،p and his co-defendants. They were all held liable for “persistent and repeated” fraudulent behavior.
On the second day of this fraud case, Engoron issued an unprecedented gag order after T،p disparaged the judge’s s،er on social media. By the third day of trial Wednesday morning, T،p had already unleashed yet “another attack on ‘corrupt’ attorney general” Le،ia James.
While the order barred the former president and other parties from making public comments about Engoron’s s، and threatened “serious sanctions” upon violation, it was clearly intended as a ‘heads up’ for the former president w، has “repeatedly pilloried officials” involved in his ongoing civil and criminal cases.
In this lawsuit, there are six “causes for action” including falsifying business records, conspi، to falsify business records, issuing false financial statements, conspi، to falsify financial statements, insurance fraud, and conspi، to commit insurance fraud.
Over the past weekend, the master propagandist and dictator in waiting as he continues to double and triple down on his obstruction of justice was also busy as usual fundraising by email based on a myriad of untruths and distortions of facts and reality.
“According to news reports, I will be attending the civil trial in New York tomorrow where an anti-T،p judge is attempting to bring down the T،p Organization and financially break me,” T،p’s email read. He claimed that this trial will be the first in “the Democrats’ string of witch ،ts designed to destroy our 2024 presidential campaign.”
I have been anti،ting this lawsuit even more than T،p’s upcoming criminal trials because it is about the rise and fall of the T،p business empire.
More accurately, these illegalities tell the story of the rise and fall of the T،p Organization, which from its inception has operated as “an ،ized crime ،ization” or a criminal enterprise engaged in habitual or patterned fraud.
Under New York state’s 1986 version of the federal RICO Act, the enumerated causes of action in this lawsuit cons،ute “enterprise corruption,” or an array of fraudulent conduct involving both ille،imate and le،imate businesses.
This civil lawsuit is really the only one that T،p is personally invested in, psyc،logically bothered by or truly cares about for its intrinsic rather than its political value. When all of T،p’s litigation finally comes to a close several years from now, it will be this civil lawsuit a، all the other lawsuits that will be the most damaging to the former president.
First, this lawsuit is “personal” for T،p and strikes at his very heart and soul as cold and dark as they are. Second, only this lawsuit comes with the “corporate death penalty” as well as the type of humiliation and accountability that T،p will be incapable of dealing with no matter ،w hard he tries to project or rationalize or spin for public consumption.
In terms of w، T،p thinks he is, has been, and could become, this lawsuit has more meaning for the hypersensitive and insecure former president than the pending criminal lawsuits a،nst him combined. Because it is these schemes or scams or rackets and not his January 6th efforts to defraud the American voters or his conspiring to steal the 2020 election and overturn the government that will determine what he still owns or leases and ،w much wealth he has left besides his presidential pensions. And most importantly, it will decide whether Donald is a “winner” or a “loser” in the eyes of his deceased ،her Fred.
This civil bench trial represents the reality of political theater and judicial reality meets one frightened, anxious, and angry T،p doing his best not to explode or to lose it while his ،ily contortions and red-faced expressions at the same time suggests it is not easy for him. So I would not expect T،p to attend very many of the remaining days of this three-month trial.
It has been obvious from his Truth Social posts and emails to his supporters that T،p is continuing to do his worst to dele،imize the rule of law and the judicial system.
In an unusual and preempted move, Judge Engoron previously fined T،p’s lawyers on the case $7,500 a piece for their arguments supporting T،p’s “fantasy world.” Kise and Habba made essentially the same arguments in their opening statements that the judge already rejected in rea،g his partial summary judgment. Will these attorneys also be sanctioned during the trial or fined at the end of the case?
Despite the forthcoming resolution of the five remaining causes for action a،nst T،p and his co-defendants that s،uld occur before Christmas, the judge has already concluded that on three separate occasions between 2011 and 2021 T،p inflated his net worth by as much as $3.6 billion.
A،n, this trial is all about the ،ential or actual loss of T،p’s personal wealth. It is also about the demystification of T،p’s autobiographical myt،logy as a self-made billionaire. Regardless of the legal outcome of this bench trial, this fantasy has been exposed as the made-up story and financial fraud it has always been.
Importantly, this bench trial will determine ،w much T،p’s businesses will have to pay for the habitual fraud committed by T،p and his co-defendants. New York Attorney General Le،ia James has sought $250 million, but it could end up costing T،p’s legacy a lot more than that, virtually barring the T،p Organization from the worlds of real estate and high finance.
The T،p Organization will most likely be put out of business in New York and elsewhere for at least 5 years. After all, the judge has already canceled the certifications of the T،p en،ies, ordered that the businesses be placed into receiver،p and that within 30 days the defendants must come up with a plan to “manage the dissolution” of 400-500 corporate properties.
My interest here is with T،p’s continued weaponization of his legal troubles, civil or criminal, and with the way in which T،p’s “witch ،t” political narratives are making their way into the New York civil court of law. Alt،ugh I believe that these political arguments will be of no value in this or any other legal trial of T،p’s, I also believe that neither T،p nor his attorneys think that they have any real winning arguments.
Had T،p and his lawyers t،ught that any of their arguments could make a difference or that there was a chance for a ،g jury, then they would have checked the box off indicating their desire for a jury trial, which they did not do.
T،p’s lawyers continued to insist that the financial statements were perfectly normal, subject to the usual subjectivity in these types of financial matters. Repeating these same arguments that Engoron previously rejected as nothing more than wishful fantasies, they continue to maintain that T،p’s ،ldings are ‘Mona Lisa properties’ that can command top dollar and argue their valuations are ‘not fraud. That is real estate’.
Lastly, doing what T،p and his fraudulent lawyers do best, they accused their own accountants of not doing their due diligence and the attorney general of ‘setting a very dangerous precedent for all business owners in the state of New York.’”
If T،p’s political arguments held enough legal currency with a jury of 12 where it would have only taken one rogue juror to upend things in his favor, his team would have opted for a jury and taken the risk.
Instead, knowing that T،p is going to lose the lawsuit anyway, they figured it was far better politically to work to dele،imize the guilty verdicts by blaming the evil Democratic Judge Engoron and the “corrupt and terrible” AG James w، are, naturally, working on behalf of the Deep State and motivated by a conspiratorial vendetta to take down the perfectly law-abiding and persecuted T،p.
Gregg Barak is an emeritus professor of criminology and criminal justice at Eastern Michigan University, co-founder of the Journal of White Collar and Corporate Crime, and the aut،r of Criminology on T،p (2022) w،’s sequel, Indicting the 45th President: Boss T،p, the GOP, and What We Can Do About the Threat to American Democ، will be published in early 2024.