Trump org. X-Mas bonus list is a heart attack on a chart, an accountant testifies

  • The first defense witness in the Trump Org. tax fraud trial is outside accountant Donald Bender.
  • He testified Tuesday that he “would have had a heart attack” if he had seen the company pay Christmas bonuses.
  • Executives were paid bonuses in petty checks signed by Trump in what the prosecutor said was a tax evasion.

A longtime external auditor for the Trump Organization testified at the tax fraud trial on Tuesday that he would have been beyond shocked if he had seen the company’s annual “secret” lists of Christmas bonus payments.

“I probably would have had a heart attack,” Donald Bender, who did corporate taxes for 35 years, told a Manhattan jury on Tuesday.

For years, former President Donald Trump personally signed stacks of bonus checks that were then stuffed into favorite corporate executives’ Christmas cards, jurors have already heard in the trial.

But the annual bonus payout for management was part of a 15-year payroll tax evasion scheme that reached the top of the company, prosecutors are trying to prove.

The bonuses should have been reported in their entirety each year on corporate W-2s, as taxable income. But they weren’t, prosecutors have charged.

Instead, plaintiffs received most of their annual bonuses in separate checks from various Trump Organization subsidiaries, as if they had worked as freelancers or contractors for Wollman Rink, Mar-a-Lago, the Trump International during the previous year. Golf Club in Palm Beach, Florida, and even Trump Productions, which produced “The Apprentice.”

That way, prosecutors argued, the company saved on withholding and was able to write off the checks as sub-costs. Meanwhile, the executives could claim the checks as freelance income, allowing them to deposit some of that money into tax-free savings accounts available only to the self-employed.

For example, in 2015, the Trump Organization paid $1.1 million in executive bonuses and Allen Weisselberg, its chief financial officer, paid a $300,000 bonus, according to documents.

Of that, $100,000 was properly paid, as compensation claimed on Weisselberg’s W-2 payroll for that year.

But $75,000 of the bonus was paid to him in a check from Wollman Rink, as if the now 75-year-old CFO had been over the moon at Central Park’s famous ice rink that year.

The rest of his bonus was paid in $50,000 checks with three different payers, as if Weisselberg had done work for Palm Beach’s golf club, Mar-a-Lago, and “The Apprentice” last year.

Last week, Weisselberg testified at the booth that these payments violated tax filing requirements.

Internally, careful records were kept of how company bonuses were paid, some titled “The Trump Organization Christmas Bonuses.”

Trump’s initials are on some of these plates. According to documents, he personally approved the total bonus amounts to be received each year by such executives as Weisselberg, corporate lawyer Jason Greenblatt, controller Jeffrey McConney and COO Matthew Calamari.

But Trump’s initials are not on spreadsheets showing what prosecutors say was the illegal part of the plan — charts showing which subsidiaries paid the bonus checks.

Bender, who works for the Mazars accounting firm, testified Tuesday that he had never seen these alleged heart attacks on a map, not until Manhattan prosecutors showed them to him in 2021.

Had he seen these charts and realized the scope of the scheme, he would have sounded the alarm, he told jurors, under cross-examination by Susan Hoffinger, one of the lead prosecutors.

“I probably would have had a heart attack,” he said, before apologizing for the exaggeration, explaining that he meant he would have been “very concerned” and probably alerted his firm Mazars.

The accounting firm cut ties with Trump and the Trump Organization earlier this year, citing a history of financial “discrepancies” at the company.

Bender’s testimony, a defense witness, could help the defense argue that Trump, too, was kept in the dark about the subsidiaries paying bonuses to directors as if they were outside compensation.

The trial is suspended for the rest of the week. Bender’s testimony and the defense case could be concluded on Monday, with closing arguments possibly as early as Tuesday.

Trump is not personally named as a defendant in the five-week criminal trial, but his company could face $1.6 million in fines if convicted of conspiracy, defrauding and lying on official records.

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