(Bloomberg) — An accountant who handled the tax returns of some Trump Organization executives 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 CFO Allen Weisselberg — was the first defense witness in the tax fraud trial against two of the former president’s companies, Trump Payroll Corp. and Trump Corp. Trump was not indicted.
As the trial entered its fourth week in state court in Manhattan, prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked Bender on cross-examination if he remembered Trump reporting losses for some years.
“Remember that in 2010 Donald Trump had almost $200 million in losses?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Bender.
“And in 2009, Donald Trump had almost $700 million in losses?” she asked.
“That sounds about right,” Bender said.
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The New York Times 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 auditor scoffed in surprise, shook his head. and said, “No.”
“It was a big return, a really big return, it’s like this high,” he said, raising his hands about three meters above his head.
Hoffinger showed Bender a series of spreadsheets kept by the Trump companies that showed more than $1 million in annual bonuses were paid from various Trump-owned entities to executives like Weisselberg, claiming they were independent contractors. Bender said the first time he had seen those records was when the prosecutor showed them to him last year.
Hoffinger asked Bender what his reaction would have been if he had seen them at the time they were prepared.
“I probably would have had a heart attack,” Bender said. “I would be quite concerned that they were reducing their income by those amounts.”
“What would you have done if you had been aware of or given these spreadsheets?” Hoffinger asked.
Mazars “would have had a fairly serious conversation with the client,” he replied.
Defense attorneys tried to highlight that Bender, who worked as the company’s outside auditor for about 35 years, failed to protect the companies from Weisselberg’s tax fraud. But during his questioning, Hoffinger tried to show that the accountant was also kept in the dark by Weisselberg, including that the finance director was given a rent-free apartment and luxury cars.
“We did due diligence,” Bender insisted. “I didn’t accept him blindly. He said it was appropriate. We expected him to live up to the agreement,” and to be honest, he said.
The trial is on recess for the Thanksgiving holiday. Bender will continue his testimony Monday.
Weissleberg, who has pleaded guilty to tax fraud charges, testified for the prosecution earlier in the trial. He told the jury he is hoping for a lighter sentence of just 100 days in jail instead of a maximum 15-year sentence.
The case is People v. Trump Organization, 01473-2021, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).
(Updates with testimonials beginning in episode 11.)
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