Lawyers for Trump’s real-estate empire rested their case Monday at their Manhattan tax fraud trial.
First, though, the trial judge scolded the Trump Organization lawyers over an 11th-hour evidence dump.
“Good old-fashioned sandbagging,” Justice Juan Merchan called the late defense filing.
The defense rested Monday in the five-week-long Manhattan tax fraud trial of Donald Trump’s international real-estate empire—but not before getting a tongue-lashing from the judge over an 11th-hour evidence dump.
“It’s inconsiderate at a minimum,” New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan scolded defense lawyers, who at midnight Sunday had filed 18 new exhibits they’d hoped to show jurors on the last day of their case.
“There’s simply no justification,” for the last-minute introduction of a stack of journal entries, reports, and emails, Merchan said, liking it to “good old-fashioned sandbagging.”
“I won’t accept it again,” the judge warned the defense, as jurors and their witness, Trump Organization longtime accountant Donald Bender, waited outside the courtroom for the last day of testimony to begin.
“It’s almost as if you really don’t want me to rule on the issue,” he said. “It’s almost as if you don’t want me to get it right,” the typically mild-tempered judge said, his voice angry.
“I’m not going to allow you to show a bunch of exhibits that the people haven’t had a chance to look at,” the judge added.
In another blow to the defense, the judge denied a defense request to have Bender declared a hostile witness, a status that would have given them more leeway in asking leading questions.
The judge also appeared skeptical on Monday of a newly-stated defense theory.
Two Trump Organization insiders — ex-CFO Allen Weisselberg and top payroll executive Jeffrey McConney — told jurors earlier this month that they realized they broke the law when they ran the tax-dodge scheme at the center of the trial.
On Monday, defense lawyers told the judge that during summations, they’ll tell jurors that although McConney and Weisselberg know now that they broke the law, they didn’t know it at the time.
For Trump Organization to be criminally liable in the payroll tax scheme, prosecutors must prove that the two executives knowingly conspired and schemed to dodge payroll taxes, and did so to benefit not only themselves but the company as well.
The defense will try to shift blame away from Trump and onto Benderthe high-priced accountant they’ll say should have blown an early whistle on the scheme.
Defense lawyers are also expected to tell jurors that the leadership at the very top of the company — meaning Donald Trump and his three eldest children, who have all served as vice presidents — were in the dark about the 15-year payroll scheme, though dozens of memos, invoices, and other documents bear a Trump signature.
The defense is also expected to tell jurors that Trump was just being generous and had no idea that his C-suite was cheating on taxes when he signed off on bonuses, raises, and tax-free perks like personal cars and apartments.
The two sides were able to compromise on a limited number of final exhibits, and the defense rested its case in the afternoon.
Jurors were told to return on Thursday when they will hear the first of two days worth of closing arguments.
Meanwhile, the two sides will appear before the judge Tuesday morning to fine-tune what jurors will be told by the judge just before they begin deliberations.
So far, the judge has told prosecutors and the defense that when he instructs, or “charges” the jury on the law, he’ll rely on the state criminal law’s standard jury instructions concerning corporate liability.
Trump’s real-estate and golf resort company faces a maximum of $1.6 million in fines if convicted of scheming and conspiring to defraud tax authorities and falsifying years of wage and tax statements.
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