The prosecutor tells the jury that the self-exiled wealthy Chinese businessman defrauded thousands of dollars

NEW YORK — A self-exiled wealthy Chinese businessman became an Internet sensation and lured thousands of people worldwide into sending him $1 billion, allowing him to spend lavishly on a mansion, two yachts and even a $35,000 mattress, a prosecutor told a New York jury Friday . start of his fraud trial.

Guo Wengui, 57, promised his online followers they would get rich before he squandered their investments on lavish lifestyles and risky investments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Micah Fergenson said.

He said Guo “executed a simple scam on a grand scale.”

“He lived the lifestyle of a billionaire on money he stole from people he cheated and deceived,” Fergenson said.

But lawyer Sabrina Shroff said Guo was not guilty of any of the dozens of charges filed against him since his arrest in March 2023, a decade after he left China in 2014 amid a crackdown on corruption involving those close to him, including a top intelligence official, were lured into a trap. .

She promised jurors developments in the trial that would be “both surprising and eye-opening” and warned them not to let ornaments of Guo's wealth cloud their judgment, as Guo had long been wealthy after joining his seven brothers had made a fortune in real estate in China.

Shroff said her client had deliberately developed a following when he formed a movement to let the people of China know there was an alternative to the Chinese Communist Party and had drawn the ire of the Chinese government.

There was no mention of Steve Bannon and other associates of former President Donald Trump during the opening statements, although Judge Analisa Torres said during jury selection that the names of former Trump advisers could emerge during a trial expected to last seven weeks.

While living in New York in recent years, Guo developed a close relationship with Bannon, Trump's former political strategist. In 2020, Guo and Bannon announced a joint initiative to overthrow the Chinese government.

After leaving China, Guo was accused by Chinese authorities of rape, kidnapping, bribery and other crimes. Guo said these accusations were false and intended to punish him for publicly exposing corruption while criticizing leading figures in the Communist Party.

When he was first charged in Manhattan, prosecutors identified him as “Ho Wan Kwok,” but recently changed how they refer to him in lawsuits, saying “Miles Guo” is the common name.

That was the name Fergenson used when the prosecutor told jurors that Guo became an internet sensation after 2017 by speaking about his wealth in videos while criticizing the Chinese government.

He said Guo tricked thousands of people into contributing to bogus investments so he could resume a luxurious lifestyle he lost when he left China.

Prosecutors said Guo and his family had several assets, including a $70 million apartment in Central Park, a $30 million yacht, a second luxury yacht, a 50,000-square-foot mansion, a $35,000 mattress, a $60,000 television and luxury cars, including a $4 million Ferrari.

He said trial witnesses would include individuals who trusted Guo and “believed the lies he told them” before losing their life savings in the fraud.

Shroff warned jurors not to be distracted by her client's lifestyle.

“It's easy for someone to judge another as shallow or rich,” she said. “Shallow or rich doesn't mean you're a criminal.”

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