The Trump Organization and its CFO Allen Weisselberg were charged on Thursday with a comprehensive 15-year program to compensate top executives of former President Donald Trump’s company “off the books” and help them avoid taxes.
The Trump Organization pleaded not guilty to allegations involving tax fraud and forgery of business records. Weisselberg, 73, pleaded not guilty of aggravated theft and tax fraud, among other things, after prosecutors accused him of personally avoiding taxes on $ 1.7 million on his income.
Prosecutors say it was an “organized” plan to compensate executives “off the books” in order to avoid taxes.
“Contrary to today’s claims by the company’s former CEO, this is not ‘standard business practice’, nor was it the act of a villain or an isolated employee,” Carey Dunne, an assistant district attorney, told the court. “Instead, it was staged by top executives who financially benefited themselves and the company by receiving secret pay increases at the expense of state and federal taxpayers.”
Weisselberg’s attorney Mary Mulligan said ahead of the Manhattan court hearing that he would take action against the charges. The longtime Trump employee turned himself in early Thursday morning.
Trump criticized the allegations as partisan in a statement from his political PAC.
“The political witch hunt of the Radical Left Democrats, with New York taking charge, continues,” he said. “It divides our country like never before!”
The organization repeated his remarks.
“Make no mistake – this is not about the law; It’s all about politics, “a Trump organization spokesman said in a statement.
The grand jury charges were brought by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and New York State Attorney General Letitia James.
In the indictment, “we allege, among other things, financial misconduct in which the Trump Organization has entered into a plan with Mr. Weisselberg to avoid taxes on certain compensations,” James said in a statement. “This investigation is ongoing and we will obey the facts and the law wherever they lead.”
Weißelberg entered the courtroom in handcuffs with his lawyer on Thursday. The public prosecutor applied for Weisselberg’s passport as part of his release provisions. He handed his passport over to the investigators.
Weißelberg is not necessarily excluded from traveling abroad, but he must obtain permission from the court. The judge set the next court date for September 20th at 9:30 a.m.
Vance’s office has investigated criminal behavior and court documents have shown such as business falsification, insurance fraud, and tax fraud at the New York City-based Trump Organization. NBC News reported in March that Vance is investigating whether Trump employees, including Weisselberg, were able to avoid taxes on fringe benefits such as housing.
In a statement Thursday morning, a Trump organization spokesman said Weisselberg was “a loving and devoted husband, father and grandfather who worked for the Trump organization for 48 years”.
“He is now being used by the Manhattan District Attorney as a pawn in a scorched earth attempt to harm the former president,” the spokesman said. “The District Attorney is filing a criminal prosecution with employee benefits that neither the IRS nor any other District Attorney would ever think of. That is not justice; That’s politics. “
Weisselberg’s former daughter-in-law, Jennifer Weisselberg, told MSNBC on Wednesday that she had been in contact with Vance’s office, handed over documents and called witnesses. When asked if her former father-in-law was not cooperating with the prosecutor because he was trying to protect his family and the former president, she said, “Not exactly.”
“I think they’re in trouble already,” she said. “I don’t think he’s cooperating. I think if someone doesn’t cooperate, it’s because the other person may have a lot of influence over you, and that’s one reason you’re afraid to turn around. “
Jennifer Weisselberg said she believed the person influencing Allen Weisselberg was “Donald”.
Ron Fischetti, a Trump Organization attorney, said last week that prosecutors are following the company and its CFO because they “couldn’t get Allen Weisselberg to cooperate and tell them what they wanted to hear, and so they are moving forward . “
“It looks like they are bringing charges against the company, and that’s totally outrageous. I have been practicing for over 50 years and have never seen a case like this where they indict or indict a person or company of tax evasion for using a company car or apartment and then bind them to the company they work without there is evidence that what he did benefited the company, “said Fischetti.
“It has never been done and it hurts a lot of innocent people who work in this company and they are only doing this to get Donald Trump back,” he said.
Prosecutors are usually reluctant to prosecute companies because such a move can be a death knell for many innocent employees. The best-known example is that of accounting firm Arthur Andersen in 2002. Their client was Enron, and after that firm collapsed in 2001 in a huge accounting and securities fraud case, Andersen was charged with obstruction of justice. Prosecutors alleged she had shredded important documents related to her work for Enron. The charges against the company, considered the gold standard for ethics, meant it could no longer win government contracts.
The company collapsed after being found guilty in the process and firing its 30,000 employees.
However, prosecutors may see the Trump organization differently. It’s not a sprawling company with tens of thousands of employees who may be injured by charges. New York City has already terminated contracts with the Trump Organization to operate a city-owned golf course, a disputed move and an ice rink in Central Park. The company does not rely heavily on government contracts that could be lost if charged.
The indictment against the Trump Organization, a private company that owns real estate, hotels and golf resorts, comes at a difficult time when the company, like many others, has been hit hard by Covid-related closings.
In January, when Trump filed federal financial records on his holdings in his most recent disclosure as president, many of the operations showed revenue bleeding. Operations at the Trump National Doral Golf Resort in Miami declined 43 percent last year from 2019, records showed, while revenues at the Trump International Hotel in the Old Post Office Building in Washington rose 63 percent to $ 15.1 million Dollars fell. Some of its golf courses saw single-digit sales increases, but most Trump properties saw sales declines last year starting in 2019.
Tax lawsuits have already been filed against New York hotel magnates.
In 1988, real estate investor Harry Helmsley and his wife Leona were convicted of evading $ 1.2 million in federal taxes. They had billed Helmsley companies for personal expenses ranging from their underwear to $ 3 million renovations to their Connecticut property. At its peak, their real estate empire was worth an estimated $ 5 billion.
During the Helmsley Trial, a former housekeeper testified that she heard Leona Helmsley say, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes. ”Helmsley denied saying so, but the comment stuck.
The charges were brought by then US Attorney for Manhattan, Rudy Giuliani. Then-businessman Trump blamed Leona Helmsley – who has been dubbed “Queen of Means” – responsible for her husband’s troubles in a letter received by the New York Post.
“Without Harry Helmsley’s veil, you would be a non-being. You couldn’t fire and abuse people indiscriminately to make yourself happy,” Trump wrote of Leona Helmsley. “What happened to Helmsley’s legendary reputation is sad indeed.”