NEW YORK (AP) — An accountant who prepared Donald Trump’s financial statements returned to the witness stand Thursday for the fourth straight day in the New York civil fraud trial examining whether the former president exaggerated his wealth.
Trump himself did not attend Thursday’s event, having chosen to be there (and take advantage of the news cameras waiting outside) for the previous three days.
The corporate fraud trial arises from New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit alleging that Trump and his company manipulated financial statements that grossly overvalued Trump Tower, Mar-a-Lago and other assets. Trump denies any wrongdoing and says James, a Democrat, is only trying to damage his 2024 presidential campaign. He is leading the Republican field.
The witnesses so far have been two accountants who worked on the financial statements, which went to banks, insurance companies and others.
James’ legal team is working to prove that Trump and his company had complete control over the preparation of the returns, and the accountants relied on information provided by the Trump Organization.
The defense has been trying to show that if there were problems with the financial statements, the errors were the fault of accountant Donald Bender. Trump’s lawyers on Thursday continued demanding questioning of Bender, who worked on the depositions for years.
Bender insisted that he asked Trump Organization executives for all the required documents, but did not always get them. He said he learned of some missing appraisals only when Manhattan prosecutors questioned him during their investigation into Trump’s business practices.
Defense attorney Jesús M. Suárez asked why Bender did not notice the missing appraisals sooner.
“I asked them for evaluations,” Bender said. “They told me they gave me everything I needed.”
After Bender testified that he had a “specific recollection” of asking a Trump lieutenant for all available appraisals, defense attorney Clifford Robert noted that Bender had responded to dozens of other questions by saying he didn’t remember.
“You don’t remember the text messages, you don’t remember the emails, you don’t remember the phone calls,” said Robert, who represents Trump’s children and the company’s executive vice presidents, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. Robert suggested that the accountant was concerned that his testimony could raise problems with accounting regulators or law enforcement authorities.
Bender’s testimony finally concluded around noon, with Trump Organization controller Jeffrey McConney taking the stand next.
The bench trial concerns allegations of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records. James is seeking $250 million in fines and a ban on Trump doing business in New York.
Judge Arthur Engoron ruled on some other claims before the trial and concluded that Trump did engage in fraud by inflating the value of his assets in the returns.
The ruling, which Trump appealed Wednesday, calls for the limited liability companies that control Trump Tower and some other prominent properties to be dissolved and operated by a receiver. Trump would lose his authority to choose tenants, hire or fire employees and other key decisions related to those properties.
In an order Thursday, Engoron ordered both sides to submit the names of potential recipients by Oct. 26. He also gave Trump and other defendants seven days to provide a list of all entities covered by the ruling. The list will go to a court-appointed monitor, retired federal judge Barbara Jones.
Engoron, seeking to prevent its ruling from being overturned, told the defendants to notify Jones in advance of any applications for new business licenses in any jurisdiction and of any attempts to create new entities to “hold or acquire the assets” of a company. which is being dissolved according to the ruling.
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