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Trump ends first day of Manhattan trial arguing judge undervalued his assets, 'drive-by appraisals'

Trump is not expected to testify in the case for several more weeks.

Published: October 2, 2023 8:41am

Updated: October 2, 2023 2:44pm

Former President Donald Trump fumed against Judge Arthur Engoron on Monday as he left a Manhattan courtroom after appearing for the start of a civil trial on charges brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, after Engoron already ruled that the former president committed fraud while building his business empire.

In a major blow to the former president, Engoron ruled last week that Trump, his associates and his businesses inflated their net worth for years to secure benefits such as advantageous loans and lower insurance premiums. Trump has specifically taken issue with how Engoron, citing the Palm Beach County assessor, appraised the value of Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida as being worth $18 million to $27.6 million.

Speaking to reporters after leaving the courtroom, Trump read the headline of "The New York Sun" article, "Error in New York’s Civil Fraud Case Against Trump Is Flagged by Industry Insiders, Who Say Valuation of Mar-a-Lago Cited by Judge Is Based on a Misunderstanding of Basic Real Estate Practice." 

The article cites several South Florida real estate experts who said that the Palm Beach County assessor performs "drive-by appraisals" that are rarely used when pricing properties. Several experts told the Sun that Mar-a-Lago could be worth between $300 million to $600,000 million, which is much closer to Trump's estimates. 

Trump said he does not know the people quoted in the article, but said, "They saw this egregious trial, this horrible, horrible trial going on, while at the same time, people are being murdered right here outside on the streets and nothing happens to the people doing the murdering."

Pointing to the article again, Trump said, "So this was just released by Palm Beach County, that the judge in this case was wrong."

In addition to local real estate experts, the article also cites Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office public information officer Becky Robinson, who said that her unit has a "specific scope of responsibility when it comes to valuation of property for the purposes of taxation," but does not focus on the market value.  

"I do not believe that our office would be the best to answer these questions," Robinson said when asked about the assessment of market value. 

Trump added that the trial could set a dangerous precedent for other businesses in the state, and said that anyone who does business in New York is "crazy" because of it.

Because of Engoron's actions, Trump argued he should be "disbarred" and removed from office.

James posted on X, formerly Twitter, Monday morning before the trial: "We have proven that Donald Trump lied about his net worth to enrich himself and cheat the system. No matter how rich or powerful you are, in America, there are consequences for breaking the law."

She also spoke in front of the courthouse before the trial Monday. Similarly, Trump spoke to reporters earlier in the day before heading into the courtroom.

"This is the single greatest witch hunt of all time," he said. "We have a racist attorney general who ran on the basis of 'She's going to get Trump' before she even knew about me. ... What we have is an attempt to hurt me in an election."

Addressing reporters before entering the courtroom Monday, Trump railed against the judge's evaluation of his properties. 

"We have a rogue judge who ruled that properties were worth a tiny fraction, one one-hundredth, a tiny fraction of what they actually are," Trump said. "Just so you know, my financial statements are phenomenal. They are actually less in terms of the numbers used than the actual net worth. The actual net worth is substantially more. No bank was affected. No bank was hurt. They don't even know why they have to be involved."

"What we have here is an attempt to hurt me in an election," Trump also said. "This trial could have been brought years ago, but they waited until I was right in the middle of my campaign."

James said she will now be using the non-jury trial to seek "to ban the Trumps from doing business in New York and pay hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains."

Trump had said Sunday evening on Truth Social that he would appear in "Court tomorrow morning to 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."

Trump has consistently attacked James since she started investigating the Trump Organization for potential fraud in 2019. 

Trump is not expected to testify in the case for several more weeks, according to The Associated Press

The former president's appearance is a break from his previous practices. He did not show up in court when former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg pleaded guilty to tax fraud last year. He also did not appear when a jury found him liable for battery and defamation in claims brought by author E. Jean Carroll. 

In the latest civil trial, James is seeking $250 million in penalties and a ban on business in the state. Additionally, if Engoron's ruling from last week is upheld on appeal, Trump would be forced to give up some of his iconic New York properties such as Trump Tower, and some of his companies would be controlled by a court-appointed receiver.

Follow Madeleine Hubbard on X or Instagram.

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