Of all the sprawling legal disputes facing Donald Trump, the one against his family business finally came under fire in a New York court last week.
Alan Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s longtime finance chief, told a jury that he betrayed the trust of the Trump family when he dodged $1.7 million in income taxes on corporate benefits, including a Manhattan apartment, taxes school supplies for her grandchildren and luxury cars.
Weisselberg’s testimony is at the center of a criminal case accusing Trump Corporation and its payroll affiliate, Trump Payroll Corp, of tax fraud. Over the summer, the executive, who remains a paid employee of the company, pleaded guilty to 15 counts of tax fraud and is expected to receive a reduced sentence of five months, but only if he is found truthful in court.
“I believe in telling the truth,” he told the court on Friday, a day after collapsing on the witness stand after testifying that it was “my personal greed that led to this.” When asked if he was embarrassed by his actions, Weisselberg said, “More than you can imagine.”
Weisselberg’s job was to meet the requirements of his plea deal, but also to claim that he was acting solely for himself, and not acting “on behalf” of the company, despite acknowledging on the witness stand that the company could benefit from the arrangement.
Weisselberg, who once described himself as Trump’s “eyes and ears,” was careful to avoid implicating his boss, or sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr, with knowledge of the fraud. It’s a tight tightrope to walk. On the witness stand Friday, Weisselberg was asked if he had the best lawyers in town. “I hope so,” he replied to the laughter of the jury.
“He’s saying I may be guilty, and the company may be guilty, but none of Trump’s individuals are guilty,” said former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann.
But that hasn’t stopped prosecutors from reminding jurors that the companies on trial are “owned by Donald Trump,” as Susan Hoffinger noted during initial discussions. Neither Trump nor his children have been charged with wrongdoing and the company has pleaded not guilty.
Weisselberg said Trump’s children failed to discipline him and even raised his salary after learning in 2017 that he had been cheating on taxes for more than a decade. “You were indeed given a raise… totaling about $200,000?” Hoffinger asked on Friday.
“Exactly,” Weisselberg replied, adding that the company also didn’t discipline other executives who had engaged in similar practices.
Jurors heard that Trump and his children allegedly wrote school checks of up to $100,000 to pay for private education for Wiesselberg’s grandchildren, which has not been reported as taxable income.
A guilty verdict against the organization could result in fines and affect its ability to do business in terms of future loans and existing loans. “If there are convictions, it can be difficult to borrow money or get licenses,” Weissmann says. “A breach can also trigger anti-fraud obligations that may be present in existing loans.”
A conviction could also potentially strengthen a separate civil suit alleging that Trump and his three oldest children are engaged in a fraudulent and illegal business pattern.
In that case, earlier this month, New York Attorney General Letitia James was granted a request for an independent monitor to oversee the Trump Organization’s filing of financial statements. Trump’s lawyers said James’s request is “a politically motivated attempt to nationalize a highly successful private enterprise.”
But on Friday, the US Justice Department appointed a special counsel to oversee the criminal investigation against the former president regarding the January 6 insurrection and the retention of government documents, a move that came days after the mega -Republican donors Stephen Schwarzman and Thomas Peterffy, along with cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder, announced they would not support Trump’s 2024 presidential bid, also announced this week.
In court, the excitement sparked by Weisselberg’s indictment last year and his guilty plea in August, and hopes that he would become a collaborating witness — which he didn’t — were not fully realized in Judge Juan’s courtroom. Merchant.
The trial provided insights into the inner workings of the Trump corporation, presented here as a family business where Donald Trump himself signed Christmas cards and bonus checks until he became US president in 2017, but not the drama.
For two weeks jurors examined spreadsheets of cable TV bills and other financial documents presented as evidence in the case. But fraud trials are rarely exuberant, and the quality of lawyers on both sides of the case have been able to keep it largely contained.
Weisselberg’s lead attorney, Nick Gravante, is known as a powerful defense attorney who once worked for Gerald Shargel, whose clients included mob bosses. Gravante also found himself representing Joe Biden’s brother James and son Hunter in a lawsuit over the purchase of a hedge fund in 2006.
“This is an unusual case in that you have great prosecutors and great defense attorneys, and both are doing their jobs,” Weissmann says.
Weisselberg’s refusal to sue his former boss limited what might otherwise have been insight into the family business. Lui began working for Trump’s father in 1973 and joined Trump as an executive at his then-fledgling Trump Organization in 1986, just as The Donald was becoming a loud, tabloid-friendly institution in the city.
As Trump’s stardom grew, and with it his reputation for brashness along with multiple headline-grabbing weddings and divorces, Weisselberg helped the firm grow into a golf, hotel and real estate empire. But she also oversaw many of Trump’s bankruptcies in the early 1990s, including the casino bankruptcies in Atlantic City and the collapse of the Trump Shuttle airline.
But Weisselberg, pressed that he was thinking during his testimony about the prospect of a 15-year prison sentence if Judge Merchan tears up his plea deal, said he wasn’t. “It’s on my mind to tell the truth in this process,” he said. But he reiterated that while the company might have gained some benefit from his tax fraud, “it was mostly due to my greed.”