1 of 10 | Former President Donald Trump appears in State Supreme Court in New York for the opening of his civil fraud trial on Monday. Photo by Brendan McDermid/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 2 (UPI) -- The first day of former President Donald Trump's multimillion-dollar civil fraud trial in New York City wrapped up Monday with his former accountant testifying for the prosecution.
Donald Bender, the Trump Organization's long-time accountant with the Mazars USA firm, told the court that he issued yearly "statements of financial condition" for the former president's businesses that were based on numbers provided by the company and rarely questioned them.
As prosecutors sought to establish their claims that Trump's real estate empire is largely based on fraudulent asset valuations, they questioned Bender on if he believed the numbers he was given for inclusion in the statements complied with widely accepted professional accounting rules.
"That was the Trump Organization's responsibility," he testified, stating his job was mainly to "cut and paste" information given to him by company officials, mainly co-defendant Jeffrey McConney, who acted as a subordinate to now-jailed Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg.
Under further questioning, Bender said the Mazars firm would not have issued the statements of financial condition if they had known the figures they were being given were fraudulent.
Mazars cut ties with the Trump Organization in February 2022, saying that a decade of annual financial statements it prepared for the former president's firm may be unreliable.
Bender is expected to continue his testimony when the trial resumes Tuesday.
The former president attended the first day of the proceedings in person, although not required to since the trial is a civil matter. The proceedings are being held to determine damages in the case after Judge Arthur Engoron determined last week that Trump's real estate business was found to have inflated the value of his New York properties, including his hotels and golf clubs.
During the lunch break Trump addressed reporters, calling Engoron "rogue judge" and a "Trump-hater," while denouncing New York Attorney General Letitia James as a "corrupt person" and a "terrible person."
The former president said Engoron's motive is to hurt him politically, and that because he is the early front-runner for the Republican 2024 presidential nomination, the judge's actions are tantamount to "interfering with an election, and it's a disgrace."
Earlier in the day, each side delivered opening statements in which it became apparent Trump's defense team would concentrate on strategy of attacking the credibility of what are expected to be the key witnesses against him, as well as that of James, whose $250 million civil names the former president, both of his adult sons as well as the Trump Organization and some of its top executives.
Lawyers for Trump's adult sons, Eric and Donald Jr., pushed back on the narrative laid out by prosecutors from James' office.
"I vigorously on behalf of my clients disagree with just about everything Mr. Wallace said," attorney Cliff Robert told the court, referencing prosecutor Kevin Wallace's opening statement.
"You need to judge credibility," he said. "Their major lynchpin is [former personal attorney] Michael Cohen. So when you talk about credibility, you're going to have a guy who lies to everyone, who is a convicted felon. And he is a fixture of what their case is about."
Seated between two of his lawyers, Trump did not make any in-court statements Monday.
Following opening statements, Engoron also ruled that TV cameras would not be allowed inside the courtroom during the legal proceedings.
Trump also spoke to the media before Monday's hearing, where he again took the opportunity to denounce the New York attorney general.
"She used this to run for governor. She failed in her attempt to run for governor," Trump said of James. "She had virtually no following. She came back and she said, 'Well, now I will go back to get Trump again.' And this what we have. It is a scam and a sham."
The former president is listed as a potential witness in the fraud trial, however, it remained to be seen if he will be called to testify.
In his ruling last week, Engoron issued a summary ruling finding Trump's real estate business guilty of enriching itself by inflating the value of his New York properties.
The misleading actions cheated banks and insurance companies out of as much as $2.2 billion.
The decision granted part of a summary judgment that was sought by James, with this week's bench trial needed so the judge can rule on a number of unresolved matters, including the amount of damages Trump will pay.
Under Engoron's ruling, all of Trump's New York business licenses were revoked, as well as those of his co-defendants, including his two sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr., his longtime finance chief Weisselberg, and his company, the Trump Organization.
Trump last appeared in the New York courtroom in April when he pleaded not guilty to 34 felony charges related to hush money paid to former adult film star Stormy Daniels, with whom he allegedly had a sexual encounter that threatened to upend his 2016 campaign for president.
That same month, Trump sued Cohen, who turned state's evidence against Trump following his arrest and conviction in 2018, which sparked the investigation into Trump's properties.
Trump had been scheduled to appear at deposition in a Miami courtroom on Tuesday as part of the lawsuit accusing Cohen of false statements and breach of attorney-client privilege, but defense attorneys were granted a delay until Oct. 9 so Trump could attend the civil trial in New York.
Trump is scheduled to go on trial in New York again on Jan. 15, when he faces a defamation lawsuit brought by author E. Jean Carroll, who seeks $10 million in damages from Trump, claiming he defamed her in 2019 when he denied raping her in the 1990s, saying she was "not my type."
Another three criminal cases related to classified documents and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol are due to take place during the height of the 2024 campaign, in which Trump was the early frontrunner for the Republican nomination.
Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media when he arrives for the opening of his civil fraud trial in New York City on October 2, 2023. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo