By Kara Scannell
Judge Juan Merchan reprimanded lawyers for the Trump Corporation for filing motions and new exhibits late Sunday night that they wanted to introduce Monday morning when they questioned Mazars accountant Donald Bender, telling them he will no longer accept any motions from the attorneys.
Defense attorneys had submitted 18 exhibits to the prosecution around midnight.
“It’s inconsiderate at a minimum,” the judge said. At worst, it’s “good old-fashion sandbagging.”
At times, the judge raised his voice and told defense attorney Susan Necheles to be seated.
“It’s almost as though you really don’t want me to rule on the issue,” Merchan told Necheles. “It’s almost as though you don’t want me to get it right. I’m not accepting any filings any more from the Trump Corporation, period.”
The judge denied Necheles’ request to consider Bender a “hostile” witness and her motion to introduce an accounting code of conduct.
Merchan said he wouldn’t allow them to introduce the code of conduct because it would open up other irrelevant lines of questioning. He previously ruled that the Trump entities cannot use as their defense that they relied on the accountants.
“Our defense is we relied on accountants for state of mind,” Necheles countered. She said the Trump entities paid Mazars a lot of money, they were excellent accountants, and knew what the Trump companies had done because it was spelled out in their books and records.
Bender testified that Trump Organization executives hid from him some of the compensation and fringe benefits they received. Bender said he was aware that certain employees were paid bonuses as if they were consultants, which gave them and the Trump entities certain tax benefits.
Necheles wants to further challenge Bender on what he knew when she questions him again this morning. The defense called Bender, after prosecutors decided not to call him in their case.
The judge’s comments were directed at Necheles, who is representing the Trump Corporation. The Trump Payroll Corp. is represented by a separate set of attorneys.
The two Trump Organization entities are charged with nine counts of tax fraud, grand larceny and falsifying business records in what prosecutors allege was a 15-year scheme to defraud tax authorities by failing to report and pay taxes on compensation provided to employees. The companies have pleaded not guilty and rested their case on Monday.
Dispute over what accounting firm knew
Once the trial resumed Monday, a lawyer for the Trump Corp. walked the jury through the company’s financial documents to try to suggest that Mazars USA, the accounting firm that prepared the taxes, would have seen that the Trump company was paying for cars for top executives — contrary to the accountant’s testimony that the information was hidden from him.
The jury was shown a side-by-side of a Mazars worksheet that broke out parking ticket expenses and the Trump entity’s general ledger that included the same ticket expenses. The Trump general ledger also showed car lease payments made by the company for Allen Weisselberg and Matthew Calamari and their wives.
Bender, the former Mazars USA accountant who worked on the Trump Organization account, had previously testified that he did not know about many of the off-the-books compensation benefits at the heart of the case, including the company-paid cars.
Bender testified that he didn’t look at the general ledger and that it was his colleague who put together the worksheet.
When asked by Necheles on Monday about both the parking tickets and the cars for Weisselberg and Calamari being on the general ledger, Bender replied that his colleague probably used the “control-f” function to search the document to find all of the parking ticket expenses.
“That’s how I would do it. I wouldn’t look through every account in the general ledger,” Bender testified.
On cross examination, Bender was asked by Bill Brennan, an attorney for the Trump Payroll Corp., if he still thought he did a good job as an accountant for the Trump companies.
Bender replied, “I did an amazing job.”
Jury could get case next Monday
After the jury was excused for lunch, Necheles argued over whether additional evidence could come into the case, with prosecutor Susan Hoffinger saying the Trump lawyers had been “double sandbagging” them since Necheles changed her mind about how she wanted to use one of the documents she gave them at midnight.
Necheles said she wanted to show records indicating that Bender did work on the Trump Corp.’s tax return.
The judge’s frustration from the morning continued as he pressed Necheles on what she hoped to gain from the evidence.
“I believe I have bent over backwards,” for the defense, the judge said. He said it didn’t mean that they could throw a lot of information at the jury to see what sticks.
“That doesn’t mean you get the benefit to argue just anything. You can’t. That’s not how it works. I’m not going to allow that,” the judge said.
The judge said it’s likely closing arguments will be Thursday and the jury could get the case next Monday.
This story has been updated with additional details.
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