(Bloomberg) – An accountant who handled tax returns for some executives of the Trump Organization told a jury that Donald Trump reported a total of about $900 million in operating losses over two years.
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Donald Bender of Mazars USA LLP — who prepared Trump’s tax returns for years and helped prepare returns for former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg — was the first defense witness in the trial for tax evasion of two of the former president’s companies, Trump Payroll Corp. and Trump Corp. Trump has not been charged.
As the trial entered its fourth week in Manhattan state court, prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked Bender during cross-examination if he recalled Trump reporting losses in some years.
“Do you remember in 2010 that Donald Trump lost nearly $200 million? she asked.
“Yes,” Bender said.
“And in 2009, did Donald Trump have nearly $700 million in losses? she asked.
“That seems about right,” Bender said.
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The New York Times has previously reported that Trump suffered business losses, but Bender’s testimony was the first public confirmation from a professional who saw or helped prepare Trump’s tax returns.
Hoffinger asked Bender if he prepared Donald Trump’s tax returns for free. The accountant scoffed in surprise, shook his head. and said, “No.”
“It was a big comeback, a really big comeback, it’s like that high,” he said, raising his hands about a meter above his head.
Hoffinger showed Bender a series of spreadsheets kept by Trump companies that showed more than $1 million in annual bonuses had been paid by various Trump-owned entities to executives like Weisselberg, claiming they were independent contractors. Bender said the first time he saw those files was when prosecutors showed them to him last year.
Hoffinger asked Bender what his reaction would have been if he had seen them when they were being prepared.
“I probably would have had a heart attack,” Bender said. “I would be quite worried if they cut their income by those amounts.”
“What would you have done if you had known or had received these spreadsheets? asked Hoffinger.
Mazars “would have had a pretty serious conversation with the client,” he replied.
Defense attorneys sought to point out that Bender, who worked as the company’s outside accountant for about 35 years, failed to protect the companies from Weisselberg’s tax evasion. But during his interrogation, Hoffinger tried to show that the accountant was also kept in the dark by Weisselberg, including that the financial director had obtained a rent-free apartment as well as luxury cars.
“We did our due diligence,” Bender insisted. “I didn’t accept it blindly. He said it was appropriate. We expected him to stick to the deal,” and to be honest, he said.
The trial is adjourned for the Thanksgiving holiday. Bender continues his testimony on Monday.
Weissleberg, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion charges, testified for the prosecution earlier in the trial. He told the jury he was hoping for a more lenient sentence of just 100 days in prison rather than a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
The case is People v. Trump Organization, 01473-2021, Supreme Court of the State of New York (Manhattan).
(Updates with testimony beginning at 11th paragraph.)
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