Two Trump companies are on trial for tax fraud, and the prosecutor says Trump knew about the scheme
Trump companies are on trial for tax fraud: The criminal tax fraud trial of two companies in former President Donald Trump’s business empire is almost over. On Thursday, defence lawyers attacked Allen Weisselberg, Trump’s former top financial lieutenant, and a prosecutor told the jury that Trump “knew exactly” what was going on with the companies.
In their final arguments, both sides focused on whether or not there was enough proof that Weisselberg planned to help the Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corporation in some way while he cheated on his taxes. Under New York law, the companies can only be found guilty if they did what they were accused of doing on purpose. This question of intent is likely to be at the heart of the jury’s discussions, which are set to start on Monday.
Susan Necheles, the lawyer for the Trump Corporation, told the jury, “We are here today for one reason and one reason only: the greed of Allen Weisselberg.” This was similar to what the defence said in its opening statements a little over a month ago. No one from the Trump family knew about Weisselberg’s “effort to evade taxes,” an alleged scheme in which he acted “solely to benefit himself,” Necheles said.
She also told the eight men and four women on the jury to pay attention to the legal instructions they would get about a section of the New York state penal law that explains what needs to happen for a corporation to be found guilty of a crime.
In this case, the law says that prosecutors must show through trial evidence that Weisseberg, Trump’s former CFO, and/or Trump Organization controller Jeffrey McConney committed tax fraud crimes while doing their jobs and “on behalf of the corporation.”
Necheles said, “The people have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the high-ranking officer did something to help the company.” “You will see that there was no such plan. Mr. Weisselberg did bad things in order to help himself.”
Michael van der Veen, a lawyer for the other company on trial, the Trump Payroll Corporation, came after Necheles. He, too, attacked the best witness for the defence by shouting, “Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg.”
“It’s not enough for prosecutors to show that the disgraced executive cheated on his taxes by not reporting off-the-books company perks as income and getting an undeserved paycheck from Trump’s company for his wife so she could get Social Security benefits,” van der Veen told the jury.
The government also must show an intent to provide some benefit for the Trump firms “and the evidence is there was no intention of benefit for the Trump Payroll Corporation,” van der Veen said. As part of the prosecution’s closing arguments, Joshua Steinglass, an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, gave a different argument. He told the jury that “a huge amount of evidence” showed that Weisselberg “intended to help the companies, and that’s enough” to convict him.
The companies’ culture enabled Weisselberg to evade taxes with virtual impunity, said Steinglass. The disgraced executive had a willing co-schemer in McConney, who grudgingly testified for the government under a grant of immunity from prosecution, Steinglass said. Trial evidence showed that the two men worked together on a plan that let Weisselberg and another top executive lower their salaries. They then used the money they saved to pay for company-paid perks with pre-tax dollars. “Everyone came out ahead. Putting money in the hands of executives and keeping payroll costs low, “Steinglass said.
The prosecution stems from a July 2021 indictment in which Weisselberg was accused of taking part in a more than decade-long tax fraud scheme that benefited top executives while generating financial gains for the companies. Weisselberg is no longer the Trump Organization’s CFO, although he is still employed by the Trump corporate empire.
Untaxed privileges permitted Weisselberg and other top Trump executives to acquire company-paid Manhattan homes and expensive cars, which they did not declare as income. They also received tax-free payments in the thousands of dollars.
Trump was not charged in the case, and he did not attend the trial. However, in a Thanksgiving week post on Truth Social, he denounced the prosecution. The trial’s conclusion comes only weeks after Trump announced his intention to run for president again in 2024, as well as a flurry of other developments in civil and criminal actions involving Trump.
The closing arguments by defence lawyers included statements that Trump knew nothing about the alleged scheme, an apparent effort to distance him from the case. Acting Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan ruled those statements opened the door for Steinglass to address the issue when the trial resumes on Friday. Despite denials by the former president, Trump knew what was going on among his top executives, argued Steinglass, who suggested he would elaborate later.
As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Weisselberg pleaded guilty to all 15 charges against him in August. Through the alleged scheme, he admitted to concealing $1.76 million in income. The agreement will allow Weisselberg to serve approximately 100 days in prison, far less than the maximum 15-year prison term he could have faced. As a result, Weisselberg became the trial’s focal focus. He was the star witness for the District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. And he was the primary focus of the Trump firms’ legal teams.
He testified under cross-examination by defence counsel that he acted out of greed, seeking pre-tax funds while still collecting a six-figure income from the Trump Organization. The defence described his actions as a Weisselberg scheme kept hidden from the companies.
In one of the most dramatic moments of the trial, defence lawyer Alan Futerfas pointed out that Weisselberg had worked for the Trump family for nearly 50 years, becoming the most trusted individual in the organisation who did not bear the Trump surname.
“Did you keep the faith that was placed in you, Mr. Weisselberg?” Futerfas inquired. Weisselberg acknowledged that he had not. “And you did it for personal gain?” the defence counsel inquired. “I did,” Weisselberg, who appeared to be fighting back tears, added. However, during direct examination by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger, Weisselberg admitted that the corporations benefited from the alleged tax scam.
Reducing his income to cover some tax-free privileges provided by the corporation benefited him, but it also resulted in lower payroll costs and savings in the Medicare share of payroll taxes paid by employers, according to Weisselberg. In his closing argument, Steinglass emphasised those evidence.
“The Trump Organization compensated their employees less. How about that for a perk? “enquired the prosecutor “You may pay your employees less if you allow them to avoid paying taxes.” The jury will also have to make decisions on other issues, such as McConney’s role. During his testimony, he described himself as a non-manager who simply followed Weisselberg’s instructions. “Who was I supposed to tell?” McConney testified, saying he was afraid of losing his job if he spoke out.
As he addressed the jury, Steinglass mocked the self-portrait. He emphasised a secret financial log kept by McConney to track salary reductions requested by Weisselberg and others, as well as corresponding company-paid perks. The log amounted to a second set of books, one for the IRS, another for the companies, he said. McConney wasn’t a low-level company soldier, “he was a co-conspirator,” argued Steinglass.
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