NEW YORK (AP) – Donald Trump has reported losses on his tax returns every year for a decade, including nearly $700 million in 2009 and $200 million in 2010, his longtime accountant testified Tuesday, confirming suspicions he long-standing on the former president’s tax practices.
Donald Bender, a partner at Mazars USA LLP who has spent years preparing Trump’s personal tax returns, said Trump’s reported losses from 2009 to 2018 included net operating losses from some of the many businesses he owns through his Trump Organization.
“There’s losses all these years,” said Bender, who was granted immunity to testify at the company’s tax fraud criminal trial in Manhattan.
The brief exchange amounted to a rare public discussion of Trump’s taxes — which the Republican has struggled to keep secret — even though there was no obvious connection to the case at hand.
A prosecutor, Susan Hoffinger, briefly questioned Bender about Trump’s taxes during cross-examination, at one point showing him copies of Trump’s tax records that the Manhattan District Attorney’s office fought for three years to obtain, before passing to other topics.
The Trump Organization, the holding company for Trump’s buildings, golf courses and other assets, is tasked with helping some top executives avoid income taxes on compensation they received on top of their salaries, including rent-free apartments and luxury car. If convicted, the company could be fined more than $1 million.
Trump is not charged in the case and is not expected to testify or participate in the trial. The company’s former finance chief testified that he hatched the plan on his own, without Trump or the Trump family knowing. Allen Weisselberg, testifying as part of a plea deal, said the company also benefited because it didn’t have to pay him as much in salary.
Bender’s testimony came amid a day full of Trump-related legal drama, including the U.S. Supreme Court paving the way for Congress to get six years of tax returns for Trump and some of his businesses.
Also on Tuesday, judge in New York Attorney General Letitia James’s civil fraud lawsuit against Trump and his company set a trial date in October 2023; a federal appeals court hears arguments in the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago documents investigation; and Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, testified before a Georgia grand jury investigating alleged 2020 election interference.
Bender’s tax loss testimony echoed what The New York Times reported in 2020, when it obtained a treasury of Trump’s tax returns. Many of the records reflected huge losses and little or no taxes paid, the newspaper reported at the time.
The Times reported that Trump paid no income taxes in 11 of the 18 years whose records it examined and that he paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2017, the year he became president. Citing other Trump tax records, the Times previously reported that he incurred losses of $915.7 million in 1995, which he could have used to avoid future taxes under the law at the time.
Manhattan prosecutors sued Bender’s firm in 2019, seeking access to eight years of Trump’s tax returns and related documents, finally getting them after a protracted legal battle that included two trips to the U.S. Supreme Court .
Bender has handled tax returns and other financial matters for Trump, the Trump Organization, and hundreds of Trump entities since the 1980s. He also prepared taxes for Trump family members and other company executives, including Weisselberg and Weisselberg’s son, who ran a company-operated skating rink in Central Park.
Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty in August to evading taxes on $1.7 million in extras in exchange for a five-month prison sentence, testified that he hid from his taxable income the extras paid by the company as Manhattan apartments and Mercedes-Benz cars by having the company comptroller, Jeffrey McConney, reduce his salary by the cost of those benefits.
Bender testified that Weisselberg kept him in the dark about that deal and that he only found out about it from prosecutors last year.
But emails shown in court Tuesday suggested McConney had tried to link it as early as 2013, with attached spreadsheets listing Weisselberg’s pay and cutbacks for extras, including tuition Trump paid for private school for the his grandchildren.
Bender, who testified that he received numerous emails from Trump executives daily, said he did not recall seeing those messages. If he had, he said, “We would have had a serious conversation about continuing with the customer.”
Mazars USA LLP has since dropped Trump as a client. In February, the firm said the annual financial statements prepared for him “should no longer be trusted” after James’s office said the statements routinely misrepresented the value of assets – an allegation at the center of his cause.
Trump blamed Bender and Mazars for the firm’s woes, writing on his Truth Social platform last week: “Highly paid accounting firm should have been systematically collecting these things — we relied on them. VERY UNFAIR!”
Bender testified that he placed the onus on Weisselberg to resolve any issues as control of the Trump Organization intensified after Trump’s 2016 election and advised him to stop a dubious practice: the company’s longstanding habit to pay executive bonuses as freelance income.
The accountant said he told Weisselberg, “If there’s anything that’s bothering you, even if there’s the slightest chance, we have to set the highest standards so that the business is, indeed, squeaky clean.”