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Trump's own fraud-trial expert testifies about 'glaring' problems in his financial statements but blames the accountants

Laura Italiano   

Trump's own fraud-trial expert testifies about 'glaring' problems in his financial statements — but blames the accountants
  • Wednesday was Trump's third day of presenting defense witnesses at his civil fraud trial in New York.
  • A former SEC accountant offered blunt testimony on Trump's net-worth statements.

When it comes to Donald Trump's estimates of his net worth, "questionable" and "inconsistencies" are words you'd expect to hear only from his accuser, the state of New York.

But on Wednesday, Trump's third day of presenting defense witnesses for his Manhattan fraud trial, an expert accountant took the stand in the former president's defense for a second day and used these very words to describe the creative math at the center of the case.

"It's certainly a red flag for me," testified the expert, Jason Flemmons, referring to an internal Trump Organization spreadsheet from 2016 displayed on overhead screens in the lower Manhattan courtroom.

"I'd want to know more," Flemmons said of the spreadsheet, in which Trump claimed some $200 million in ready cash. State officials say those millions were actually locked in a partnership that Trump did not have sole authority to withdraw from.

"It's a red flag?" the judge in the non-jury trial, state Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, cut in.

"Based on my expertise," Flemmons answered, "I would have a lot of questions about it," he said, adding: "This is a rather glaring issue."

The not-so-ready cash was just one of nearly a dozen net-worth red flags identified Wednesday by Flemmons. A former fraud enforcer for the Securities and Exchange Commission, Flemmons had begun testifying on Trump's behalf on Tuesday when he described the broad wiggle room allowed in estimating net worth.

New York's attorney general, Letitia James, has alleged that over the past decade, Trump's annual net-worth statements fraudulently exaggerated his worth by as much as $3.6 billion a year, allowing him to reap at least $250 million in otherwise unavailable profits and interest-rate savings.

But Flemmons did more Wednesday than support some of the attorney general's worst fraud allegations.

He also testified that red flags popped up routinely while drafting net-worth statements, which banks use in deciding whom to lend to and at what interest.

"It happens all the time," he said. And it certainly happened a lot in Trump's net-worth statements, by Flemmons' own description.

Led through a decade of statements and underlying internal Trump Org spreadsheets by the defense lawyer Jesus Suarez, Flemmons described numerous "discrepancies" and "inconsistencies."

These included Trump tripling the actual square footage of his Manhattan penthouse, secretly adding a Trump "brand premium" to his total worth, and inflating the value of Trump Park Avenue by valuing rent-stabilized condo units at market rate.

But Flemmons deflected blame for these discrepancies onto that old Trump stalking horse: the outside accountant.

It was the accountant's obligation, Flemmons testified Wednesday, to catch discrepancies and not the responsibility of the person signing the statement or attesting to its truth, as Trump or his sons have done every year for the past decade.

"That's why you have outside accountants involved in this process," Flemmons said.

James and her team of lawyers would beg to differ — and have done so. They have argued in court and in filings that it's just like lying on your taxes: You can't dodge legal responsibility by blaming your accountant.

Trump's longtime accountant at Mazars USA, Donald Bender, has pointed his finger right back at Trump. Bender said in testimony last month that while his firm was responsible for compiling Trump's annual net-worth statements, it was up to Trump and his executives to provide him with accurate liability and market-value data to work from.

This, the attorney general has alleged, Trump did not do.

"Blame the accountants" has been one of Trump's go-to defenses in his New York fraud travails, going back to the criminal tax-fraud case his company lost a year ago.

James is seeking a judge's verdict that would permanently bar Trump and his two eldest sons from running a business in New York. She is also seeking at least $250 million in financial penalties.

Flemmons is scheduled to continue his testimony Thursday under cross-examination by Kevin Wallace, a senior counsel at the AG's office. The defense case and any rebuttal case by the attorney general's side are expected to take another month or more.

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