Prosecutor says Trump ‘knew exactly what was going on’ with Exec’s tax fraud scheme
- US News
- December 2, 2022
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NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump “knew exactly what was going on” with top Trump Organization executives who plotted for years to dodge taxes on company-paid perks, a prosecutor said Thursday, setting the defense’s allegations in Question that the former president was unaware of the action at the heart of the company’s tax fraud case.
Manhattan Attorney Joshua Steinglass threw out the bombing allegation during closing arguments. He vowed to share more details when he resumes on Friday, bolstered by the judge’s decision to give prosecutors permission to enter areas that were considered off-limits because Trump is not on trial.
The tax fraud case is the only lawsuit emerging from the Manhattan Attorney’s Office’s three-year investigation into Trump and his business practices. Thursday’s closing arguments were the last chance for prosecutors and defense attorneys to influence the jury before deliberations next week.
Judge Juan Manuel Merchan, who dismissed a defense objection after the jury left court, said the company’s lawyers opened the door by claiming in their closing arguments that Trump was unaware of the plan, which was used by his longtime Chief Financial Officer concocted just steps away from his office in Trump Tower.
“It was the defense that repeatedly invoked the name of Donald Trump,” Merchan said, setting up a potentially explosive final day of arguments before jury deliberations next week.
Prosecutors had given mixed signals about Trump’s importance to the case, telling a judge early on “this case isn’t about Donald Trump” but then repeatedly questioning witnesses about him; show copies of Trump’s tax returns to a witness, and eventually try to relate the points to him in closing arguments.
Trump has denied any knowledge of the plan, writing on Tuesday on his Truth Social platform, “There was no win for ‘Trump’ and we were unaware of it.”
Steinglass said the Trump Organization has “cultivated a culture of fraud and deception” by showering executives with luxurious perks and falsifying records to hide compensation.
Steinglass’ at times fiery summary followed defense arguments attempting to pin the blame for the fraud on Allen Weisselberg, the senior adviser and ex-CFO who has admitted to scheming to get personal income taxes paid on an apartment paid for by the company , luxury cars and other goodies to avoid.
“Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg,” Trump Organization attorney Michael Van der Veen told jurors, underscoring his closing argument with the defense team’s mantra for the month-long trial.
Steinglass backed up when it was his turn and told the jury, “Both halves of this sentence are false. Not only Weisselberg did it and not only Weisselberg benefited from it.”
The Trump Organization — the company through which Trump manages his real estate holdings and other ventures — is accused of helping Weisselberg and other executives avoid paying income taxes on perks paid by the company.
Steinglass argued that the Trump Organization – through its subsidiaries Trump Corp. and Trump Payroll Corp. – is liable because Weisselberg and a subordinate he worked with, controller Jeffrey McConney, were “senior” agents assigned to act on behalf of the company and its various entities.
If convicted, the Trump Organization could be fined more than $1 million. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who watched the closure of Steinglass from the courtroom gallery, said his office’s investigation into Trump was “active and ongoing” and that no decision had yet been made on whether to charge him .
However, the company’s lawyers argued that Weisselberg only intended to enrich himself with its tax evasion scheme, not the Trump Organization, and that the company should not be held responsible for its transgressions.
“We’re here today for one reason: Allen Weisselberg’s greed,” Trump Organization attorney Susan Necheles said, her remarks at one point being accompanied by the wailing of a siren from an emergency vehicle outside.
Weisselberg pleaded guilty in August to evading $1.7 million in extras taxes and testified against the Trump Organization in exchange for a promised five-month sentence.
Weisselberg has worked for Trump’s family for nearly 50 years, starting as an accountant for his father, real estate developer Fred Trump, in 1973 before joining Donald Trump’s company in 1986.
“He screwed it up on the way. He got greedy. Once he started it was difficult for him to stop,” said Necheles.
Necheles argued that the case against the company was tenuous and that the 1965 state law underlying some of the charges required prosecutors to demonstrate that Weisselberg intended to benefit the company and not just himself.
Weisselberg testified that he conspired to hide his perks from McConney by adjusting payslips to deduct her expenses from his salary.
The arrangement reduced Weisselberg’s tax liability while saving the company money, since he didn’t have to give him a hefty raise to cover the cost of the perks and additional income taxes he would have incurred.
“I knew in my head that there was an advantage for the company,” Weisselberg testified.
But Necheles argued that any benefit to the company is incidental, minimal, and unintended.
“He’s atoning for his sins, but as part of the plea bargain, prosecutors forced him to testify against the company he helped build,” Necheles told jurors. “Now the prosecution’s case rests on one thing: to convince you, the jury, that Mr. Weisselberg’s actions were on behalf of the company.”
“You will see that there was no such intention,” Necheles added. “The purpose of Mr. Weisselberg’s crimes was to benefit Mr. Weisselberg.”
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