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Once Election Year Kicks Off, So Will a Trial Accusing Donald Trump and His Family of Promoting a Pyramid Scheme

Trump Celebrity Apprentice

Former President Trump’s promo of ACN on “Celebrity Apprentice,” as embedded in the lawsuit.

Roughly six years after its initial filing, a federal lawsuit accusing Donald Trump and his family of promoting a pyramid scheme will finally go to trial — right at the start of a presidential election year.

U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield formally set a trial date in the case for Jan. 29, 2024, a date earlier than the former president had hoped for but later than his challengers would have wanted.

First filed anonymously in 2018, the lawsuit alleges that the Trump Corporation promoted a multi-level marketing scheme — better known as a pyramid scheme — through the company ACN Opportunity, LLC, which operates under the name American Communications Network. The four named plaintiffs, suing under a proposed class action, have since agreed to go public. The case, which will finally see a jury more than half a decade after its initial filing, has encountered repeated delay over attempts to dismiss the case and publicly disclose its plaintiffs.

They claim that Trump should be liable for lending his and his family’s names to a pyramid scheme through endorsements on The Celebrity Apprentice, and the lawsuit includes embedded advertisements on the show — one of which states, “Personally endorsed by renowned entrepreneur and multi-billionaire Donald J. Trump.”

At the time, Trump had not yet added the position of U.S. president to his resume.

The plaintiffs, led by attorney and frequent Trump litigation opponent Roberta Kaplan, had sought to avoid an election-year trial.

Shortly after Trump announced his intention to run again, Kaplan requested an October 2023 trial date — “before primary contests and other campaign-related events begin in earnest.”

“Plaintiffs have no desire to interfere with the upcoming campaign, and are mindful that, should the schedule in this case extend into 2024, Defendants likely will, as they have in the past, use the campaign as a basis to seek further delay. Setting a trial date now will provide certainty and avoid any such delay later,” Kaplan wrote in a four-page letter dated Nov. 21, shortly after Trump declared his candidacy.  “In addition, aligning summary judgment briefing with class certification briefing makes sense, given that discovery will be complete and there is no reason to wait.”

Calling Trump’s cross-examination at trial “critical,” Kaplan estimated that campaign events would likely begin in earnest in January or February 2024.

She noted that the same thing happened in 2016 during a class action lawsuit against the now-shuttered Trump University, when the then-candidate’s lawyers requested a post-election date.

“The same writing is on the wall for this case,” Kaplan said.

Trump’s lawyers have argued that an October 2023 trial date would interfere with another trial against the former president and his family: The fraud suit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, which is currently slated head to trial in state court that same month.

“Plaintiffs’ initial request for an October 2023 trial date is nothing more than an unfortunate attempt to interfere with another case in which my partner and I are counsel for Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump, both of whom are also Defendants in this case,” attorney Clifford F. Robert wrote in a reply letter.

He claimed that Kaplan’s concerns about future delay was based on “nothing more than speculation, surmise and conjecture.”

In her Tuesday order, the judge warned that there would be no further delay.

“The trial date is firm, as the trial is scheduled far advance to accommodate the parties’ stated availability in their letters,” Schofield wrote in her Tuesday order.

Both of the parties estimate that trial will last two to four weeks.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."