Donald Trump’s company and its long-time CFO were indicted on Thursday in what a prosecutor called a “sweeping and bold” tax evasion scheme that allegedly saw the Trump leader receive more than $ 1.7 million. US dollars of unofficial compensation, including apartment rent, payments and tuition.
It is the first criminal case to result from a two-year investigation into the former president by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Trump himself has not been charged, but prosecutors noted that he signed some of the compensation checks at the center of the alleged program.
According to the indictment, from 2005 to this year, the Trump Organization and CFO Allen Weisselberg defrauded the state and the city with taxes by conspiring to pay senior executives, including Weisselberg, unofficially, through lucrative benefits and other means.
Weisselberg and lawyers for the Trump Organization have pleaded not guilty. Weisselberg was ordered to turn over his passport and was released without bail, leaving the courthouse without comment.
Weisselberg, 73, has intimate knowledge of the Trump Organization’s financial transactions for nearly five decades in the business. The charges against him could give prosecutors the means to pressure him to cooperate with the investigation and tell them what he knows.
Trump calls affair a ‘witch hunt’
In a statement, Trump called the affair a “political witch hunt by radical left Democrats.” Weisselberg’s lawyers said he would “fight these accusations.”
The case is led by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and New York Attorney General Letitia James, both Democrats.
Vance, who is stepping down at the end of the year, has led a wide-ranging investigation into various issues involving Trump and the Trump Organization, such as hidden cash payments made to women on Trump’s behalf and whether the company has manipulated the value of their properties to obtain loans or reduce their taxes.
The news comes as Trump is more seriously discussing a possible return to the presidency in 2024. He has stepped up his public appearances, including hosting his first rallies since leaving the White House.
In announcing the grand jury indictment, Carey Dunne, the senior district attorney’s office, said; “Politics has no role in the jury room, and I can assure you it has had no role here.”
He described a 15-year program “orchestrated by the top leadership” of the Trump Organization.
Trump’s grown sons in charge
The Trump Organization is the entity through which the former president manages his many entrepreneurial affairs, including his investments in office towers, hotels and golf courses, his numerous marketing deals and his television activities. Trump’s oldest sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, have been in charge of the day-to-day operations of the company since he became president.
Weisselberg has come under scrutiny in part because of questions about his son’s use of a Trump apartment at little or no cost.
Barry Weisselberg – who ran a Trump-operated ice rink in Central Park – paid no declared rent while living in a Trump-owned apartment in 2018. He was only billed US $ 1,000 per month – well below typical Manhattan prices – while living in a Trump apartment from 2005 to 2012, according to the indictment.
WATCH | Weisselberg entered into a federal immunity deal in 2018:
Allen Weisselberg himself, an intensely private man who lived for years in a modest house on Long Island, continued to claim the residence there while living in a Manhattan apartment paid for by the company, have prosecutors said.
In doing so, Weisselberg concealed that he was a resident of New York City and avoided paying more than $ 900,000 in federal, state, and municipal income taxes, instead collecting around $ 133,000 in refunds to which he was not entitled, prosecutors said.
The company paid the rent, tuition, vehicles
According to the indictment, Weisselberg paid the rent on his Manhattan apartment with company checks and ordered the company to pay its utility and parking bills.
The company also paid the school fees for Weisselberg’s grandchildren with checks bearing Trump’s signature, as well as the Mercedes-Benz cars driven by Weisselberg and his wife, and gave him money to tip. around Christmas.
These benefits were listed in internal Trump company documents as part of Weisselberg’s employee compensation, but were not included in its W-2 forms or otherwise reported, and the company did not withhold taxes. on their value, prosecutors said.
Trump’s company also issued checks, at Weisselberg’s request, to pay for personal expenses and improvements to his homes and an apartment used by one of his sons, such as new beds, televisions to flat screen, carpet and furniture for his Florida residence, prosecutors said. .
Barry Weisselberg’s ex-wife Jen Weisselberg cooperated with investigators and handed over tons of tax records and other documents.
Weisselberg has a reputation for being a man deeply devoted to Trump’s interests.
According to the indictment, two other Trump executives who have not been identified by name also received substantial compensation under the table, including accommodation and payment of car leases, according to the indictment. .
The prosecutor fought for the tax cases
Trump said his company’s actions were standard business practice and by no means a crime. The Trump organization accused the district attorney’s office of using Weisselberg as “a pawn in a scorched earth attempt to harm the former president.”
Vance fought a long battle to get Trump’s tax records and subpoenaed documents and interviewed corporate executives and other Trump insiders.
James Repetti, a tax lawyer and professor at Boston College Law School, said a company like the Trump Organization would generally be responsible for withholding taxes not only on pay but other forms of compensation.
Another New York real estate personality, the late Leona Helmsley, was convicted of tax evasion in a federal case arising out of her business paying to renovate her home without her reporting it as income.
“The IRS routinely looks for abuse of employee benefits when auditing private businesses,” Repetti said.