NEW YORK (AP) — Prosecutors in the Trump Organization’s criminal tax fraud trial dropped their case early Monday, pinning hopes of convicting Donald Trump’s company largely on the word of two top executives who concluded agreements before testifying that they had schemed to avoid taxes on benefits paid by the company.

Allen Weisselberg, the company’s longtime chief financial officer, and Jeffrey McConney, senior vice president and comptroller, testified for most of the prosecution’s eight-day case, bringing the drama of their own admitted guilt to a numbers-heavy trial. spreadsheets, tax returns and payroll records.

Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty in August to tax evasion on $1.7 million in extras, was required to testify as a prosecution witness as part of a plea deal in exchange for a promised five-month prison sentence. McConney was granted immunity to testify.

The Trump Organization’s lawyers opened their defense by calling to the stand the accountant who has handled tax returns and other financial matters for Trump, the Trump Organization and hundreds of Trump entities since the 1980s.

Donald Bender, a partner at Mazars USA LLP, said McConney called him “several times” a week about various tax matters and that he received emails from Weisselberg so often that he even found time to respond while he was in the mountains or on vacation. in Paris .

Bender said she interacted much less frequently with Trump, her biggest client, attending his 2005 wedding but otherwise speaking to him maybe a few times a year.

Once Trump became president in 2017, Bender said he would visit him twice a year at the White House so he could sign his tax extensions and statements, but those trips ended when the coronavirus pandemic began. COVID-19.

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!”

Prosecutors had considered calling the accountant, including prepping him for six hours at a Zoom conference on Saturday, but decided to leave it for the defense. Bender’s testimony will continue on Tuesday.

Prosecutors called only three other witnesses: the Trump Organization’s accounts payable supervisor, a forensic accountant for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, and a state tax auditor who investigated Weisselberg’s taxes. The auditor was on the witness stand on Monday.

Weisselberg, now a senior counsel at the firm, testified last week that he conspired with McConney, his subordinate, to hide more than a decade of extras from his taxable income, but that neither Trump nor his family were involved.

McConney testified that Weisselberg and another executive, Michael Calamari Sr., leaned on him over the years to falsify payroll records to hide extras like Manhattan apartments and Mercedes-Benz cars from their taxable income, in part reducing their salaries by the cost of those benefits and issuing forged W-2 forms.

Manhattan prosecutors say the Trump Organization helped top executives avoid paying taxes on benefits paid by the company and is responsible for Weisselberg’s crime because he was a “high-level managerial agent” acting on his behalf. I count.

The tax fraud case is the only trial resulting from the Manhattan District Attorney’s three-year investigation into Trump and his business practices. If convicted, the company could be fined more than $1 million and face difficulties closing deals.

Bender’s company, Mazars, cut ties with Trump in February and said the annual financial statements prepared for him “should no longer be trusted” after New York Attorney General Letitia James said the statements regularly reported the value of the goods.

James filed a lawsuit in September accusing Trump and his company of increasing his net worth by billions of dollars and routinely misleading banks and others about the value of assets such as golf courses, hotels and his Mar-a-Lago estate.

Trump’s financial statements are not part of the criminal case.

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