• Tue. Jan 31st, 2023

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Closing arguments begin in the Trump Organization’s tax fraud trial

Closing arguments began Thursday in the tax fraud trial of the Trump Organization, which is accused of a sweeping, 15-year scheme to compensate top executives of former President Donald Trump’s company off the books.

The arguments, which began first with the defense attorneys, started by recapping some of the testimony from witnesses in the criminal trial, which started at the end of October, including from the prosecution’s star witness, former company chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg.

The Trump Organization’s lawyers laid out their case that Weisselberg committed his crimes to benefit himself, saying prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the ex-CFO did so on behalf of the company.

“We are here today because of one reason and one reason only, because of the greed of Allen Weisselberg,” defense attorney Susan Necheles said. Necheles added that Weisselberg “wanted a deal with the government because he knew he did something wrong and was afraid of a long prison sentence.”

After lawyers wrap up up arguments, the 12-person jury is set to begin deliberations Monday.

Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty to evading taxes, agreed to testify against his former employer in exchange for a five-month jail sentence. Prosecutors say he received $1.76 million in “indirect employee compensation” through the scheme, including a rent-free apartment, expensive cars, private school tuition for his grandchildren and new furniture. Other executives got similar perks and were paid bonuses as independent contractors, saving the company payroll taxes.

The ex-CFO testified that the Trumps had not been aware of his schemes, but that Trump’s eldest sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, did not discipline him after they found out.

Weisselberg said he had “betrayed” the Trump family’s trust in him. Although he said Trump and his sons knew of the perks he received because they would sign the checks, they were unaware of any fraud.

Former CFO Allen Weisselberg leaves the courtroom during a trial at the New York Supreme Court
Former CFO Allen Weisselberg leaves the courtroom during a trial at the New York Supreme Court in New York on Nov. 17.Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images file

While the company profited from his scams by not having to pay payroll or Medicare taxes, Weisselberg said it was his “own personal greed that led to this.”

While he was removed as CFO after he was indicted, Weisselberg  testified that his duties have remained largely the same and he’s still making the same amount of money — about $1 million a year. The company has also paid for the lawyers represented him in the case, he said.

Lawyers for the company, which pleaded not guilty, argued that Weisselberg acted on his own. Trump, who announced his 2024 presidential bid last month, has not been charged in the case.

The Trump Organization could incur fines up to $1.6 million if convicted on all counts. A conviction could also hamper the company’s ability to obtain future financing, experts have said.

The former president has cast the charges as a political hit job.

“There has never been a ‘Fringe Benefits’ case such as this brought before,” Trump said in a post on his Truth Social platform last month. “Did a long time executive pay tax on the use of a company car, or a company apartment, or payments (not even taken by us as a tax deduction!) for the education of his grandchildren? For this, he gets handcuffs and jail?”

The company has become ensnared in other legal problems as well. The New York attorney general’s office is also suing the company, Trump and his oldest children last month, alleging they had overstated the company’s financial assets by billions of dollars. The civil suit, which Trump has also dismissed as a politically motivated “witch hunt,” seeks to impose about $250 million in penalties and to permanently bar Trump and his three oldest children from serving as officers of any New York-based companies.

Dareh Gregorian contributed.