Trump Org defense rests case as judge chews out lawyers for throwing ‘anything and everything’ at jury

Molly Crane-Newman/New York Daily News/Molly Crane-Newman

Trump Organization lawyers rested their case Monday as a Manhattan judge chewed them out for throwing “anything and everything” at a jury as they heard remaining evidence in the tax fraud case.

The second-to last witness on the stand for the former president’s company was Donald Bender, a partner at Mazars USA LLP, who testified about handling the Trump Organization’s tax returns for over three decades.

Trump has sought to blame Bender for not detecting the fraud central to the criminal case.

As the trial entered its sixth week, even-tempered Judge Juan Merchan sounded like he’d reached the end of his rope, partly incensed with defense lawyers for trying to enter a caseload of new exhibits in the eleventh hour.

Trump Corp. lawyer Susan Necheles sought to introduce 18 new exhibits as part of the defense theory that Bender knew how the Trump Organization compensated senior executives like CFO Allen Weisselberg and Chief Operating Officer Matthew Calamari with lavish untaxed benefits.

But the judge had already made clear it wasn’t Bender’s job to police the organization. Merchan previously told Trump Organization lawyers they couldn’t argue that the company was not to blame for the fraud because it relied on its accountant to detect it.

He described their efforts to introduce new evidence at midnight Monday as an attempt “to throw anything and everything” at jurors hoping it would confuse them.

“You can’t, that’s not how it works,” said Merchan.

In the end, while allowing Necheles some leeway, the judge said he had “bent over backward to allow” the Trump Organization and Trump Corp. to present a fair defense.

During three days on the witness stand, Bender testified that Weisselberg misled him into believing he did some work for the Trump Organization as a freelancer. Weisselberg, the company’s CFO, had testified for the prosecution that the company saved on payroll taxes by paying executives their annual bonuses as independent contractors.

Bender said he was in the dark about tens of thousands of untaxed dollars the senior executives received in so-called “fringe benefits,” like Mercedes-Benz car leases and rent on secondary apartments.

Mazars cut ties with the Trump Organization in the spring of 2021, finding it could no longer rely on its statements of financial condition.

To prove the companies’ guilt, prosecutors must prove Weisselberg acted in his official capacity in the tax dodging scheme and that the company benefited from helping him do so. The CFO pleaded guilty to the conspiracy in August for a reduced prison sentence in exchange for his testimony at trial.

Monday’s last witness was a paralegal who testified about email records involving Weisselberg’s communications with Bender in 2013.

Jurors are expected to hear three sets of lengthy closing arguments on Thursday from prosecutors, Trump Organization lawyers, and the Trump Corp. They’ll render separate verdicts for the two Trump-owned entities, which have pleaded not guilty to criminal tax fraud, grand larceny, falsifying business records and other related charges.