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Outside accountant testifies as Trump company trial nears end

An outside accountant gave testimony on Tuesday on his dealings with a top executive of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s real estate company that could undermine its defense as the Trump Organization’s trial on tax fraud charges neared an end.

November 23, 2022
By Luc Cohen
23 November 2022

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK, Nov 22 (Reuters) – An outside accountant gave
testimony on Tuesday on his dealings with a top executive of
former U.S. President Donald Trump’s real estate company that
could undermine its defense as the Trump Organization’s trial on
tax fraud charges neared an end.

Donald Bender, the first witness called by the defense,
testified that Allen Weisselberg, who was the company’s chief
financial officer, never told him that the Trump Organization
paid his rent and other personal expenses for years. That could
impair the defense’s contention that Bender should have blown
the whistle to the company about Weisselberg’s fraud.

Under cross-examination by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger,
Bender also said that if Weisselberg had told him about those
payments and his misreporting of income, “We would have had a
serious conversation about continuing as a client.”

Prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney’s office
have accused the company, which operates hotels, golf courses
and other real estate around the world, of orchestrating a
15-year scheme of tax fraud starting in 2005 to pay executives
through off-the-books benefits and compensate them as if they
were independent contractors.

The Trump Organization has pleaded not guilty. The company
has sought to shift the blame toward Weisselberg, who in August
pleaded guilty to tax fraud and other charges, and Bender, who
has been given immunity from prosecution after testifying to the
grand jury that indicted the company and Weisselberg.

Bender testified as a defense witness after the prosecution
opted not to call him to the stand before resting its case on
Monday. Bender testified on Monday that he met with prosecutors
to prepare for possible testimony as recently as Saturday.

Bender on Tuesday testified that Weisselberg assured him
that the details the then-CFO provided to prepare his tax
returns were accurate and did not warrant further investigation,
which could make it harder for the defense to shift the blame
onto him.

“I did due diligence,” Bender told jurors. “I wasn’t blind
to the situation. I spoke to him. I trusted him,” Bender said.

The defense said it could rest its case next Monday,
following a break for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. That would
pave the way for closing arguments and jury deliberations later
next week.

Trump has not been charged in the case. His company could
face a fine of up to $1.6 million if convicted.

Trump, a Republican who last week launched another bid for
the presidency in 2024, has called the charges politically
motivated. Alvin Bragg, the current Manhattan district attorney,
is a Democrat, as is the DA who brought the charges last year,
Cyrus Vance.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

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