Manhattan prosecutors rested their case in the tax fraud trial of Donald J. Trump’s family business on Monday without calling a witness they had previously planned to question, an indication of confidence after the company’s longtime chief financial officer testified last week.
The former chief financial officer, Allen H. Weisselberg, strengthened the prosecution’s hand as he admitted to his participation in a tax scheme that the company, the Trump Organization, is also charged with.
Mr. Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme this summer, also said on cross-examination that he had not conspired with any Trump relative and had acted solely for himself — which may have helped the defense. But prosecutors appeared satisfied with his testimony, deciding not to call the other crucial witness, Donald Bender, who for years was an outside accountant for Mr. Trump and the company.
Mr. Bender, who works for the accounting firm Mazars USA, has been cooperating with prosecutors since at least last year. Last week, they said in court that they expected to call Mr. Bender, but reversed that plan. The Trump Organization’s lawyers indicated Monday morning that they plan to call him as a defense witness instead.
The Trump Organization lawyers have sought to suggest that Mr. Bender bore responsibility for not alerting executives, including Mr. Weisselberg and Jeffrey McConney, the company’s controller, that the tax scheme was illegal. Prosecutors, on the other hand, have presented evidence that indicate that Mr. Bender would not have been responsible for inaccuracies in the company’s tax reporting.
Understand the Cases Against Allen Weisselberg and the Trump Organization
Who is Allen H. Weisselberg? Mr. Weisselberg was the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer and for decades, one of former President Donald J. Trump’s most trusted executives. He entered the Trump orbit as a junior bookkeeper for Mr. Trump’s father and climbed the ranks in the decades that followed.
What is he accused of? Mr. Weisselberg and the Trump Organization were both charged with participating in a 15-year tax-evasion scheme starting in 2005 to help executives avoid taxes by compensating them with perks and bonuses that were kept off the books. The charges were the result of an ongoing investigation of Mr. Trump and his company by the Manhattan district attorney.
Was Mr. Trump also charged? No. Although the former president is entwined with the Trump Organization, the indictment, which was unsealed last summer, did not accuse him of wrongdoing. No employee other than Mr. Weisselberg was charged.
What are the implications for Mr. Weisselberg? Mr. Weisselberg has agreed to a plea deal with Manhattan prosecutors, and he is expected to receive a five-month jail term and could spend as little as 100 days behind bars. The deal, which required him to plead guilty to 15 felonies, could put the Trump Organization at a disadvantage at its own trial, which kicked off on Oct. 31. The executive is expected to be a central witness.
What does this mean for the Trump Organization? Mr. Weisselberg is not expected to implicate Mr. Trump or his family when he takes the stand in October. But his admission of guilt will undercut any effort by the company’s lawyers to contend that no crime was committed. If convicted, Mr. Trump’s company could face steep fines or other penalties as well as a fallout from its business partners.
The prosecutors’ conclusion of their case suggested that the trial, which some experts had expected to last well into December, could conclude as soon as next week, with the defense hoping that Mr. Bender’s testimony might help tip the scales in their favor as the jury prepares to deliberate. After Tuesday, proceedings will pause for the Thanksgiving holiday, resuming Nov. 28.
The trial concerns a scheme in which Mr. Weisselberg and other Trump Organization executives received some compensation in off-the-books perks including apartment rentals, leased luxury cars and private school tuition for relatives. The company has been charged with 17 counts of tax fraud, conspiracy, scheme to defraud and falsification of business records.
To prove the company guilty, prosecutors must show that Mr. Weisselberg, who lost his title this year but is still being paid, engaged in the scheme “in behalf of” the company. To do so, they asked him questions that prompted him to testify that the company had benefited, because the scheme allowed it to avoid paying its executives and tax authorities more money.
But Mr. Weisselberg’s testimony, which was required by his plea deal, was not wholly positive for the prosecutors. Under questioning from a company lawyer, Alan Futerfas, he said repeatedly that he had acted solely for his own benefit, playing into their argument that, as their team has repeatedly put it, “Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg.”
According to the judge presiding over the case, Juan Merchan, the prosecutors must show that Mr. Weisselberg acted for interests other than his own — that he sought to benefit the company, whether he was successful in doing so or not. Depending on how Justice Merchan explains that concept to the jury and how carefully jurors parse his directions, one or more of them might conclude that Mr. Weisselberg acted only for himself, leading to an acquittal or a hung jury.
If the defense lawyers call Mr. Bender, they are likely to seek to emphasize that his firm, Mazars USA, bore responsibility for not alerting the Trump Organization to the illegality of the scheme. They appear to believe that some jurors may be convinced that the company was not culpable, and that the responsibility lay solely with Mr. Weisselberg, Mr. McConney, the controller — who is immune from prosecution after having testified in the grand jury — and Mr. Bender.
On Friday, Mr. Weisselberg testified that Mr. Bender had never told him that he was committing a crime by filing his tax returns without declaring the perks he had received. He said that if he had been told certain practices were illegal, he would not have engaged in them.
But Mr. Weisselberg has also testified that, under the terms of the company’s arrangement with Mazars, it was his responsibility to verify the accuracy and completeness of the Trump Organization’s accounting practices, not that of the outside firm.
Ben Protess contributed reporting.