Trump Organization charged with conspiracy, tax evasion and falsification of business documents
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance laid the charges, along with attorneys for New York City Attorney General Letitia James. Both officials are Democrats and former President Donald Trump has said their investigation was politically motivated.
The charges come after Manhattan prosecutors spent more than two years combing through the Trump Organization’s financial information. They also won a Supreme Court fight to secure and review eight years of Trump’s personal tax returns.
The move to lay serious charges against Weisselberg, who is 73 years old and has spent decades working at high levels in the Trump Organization, has been seen by outside legal observers as a way to pressure him into cooperates in the larger investigation. Trump’s eponymous company was central to building his media stardom and political personality – as well as the subject of the intrigue of his skeptics and detractors.
The indictment released Thursday focuses on how the Trump Organization has provided some senior leaders with benefits and other benefits.
He alleges that Weisselberg and several senior executives received valuable benefits on which they did not pay taxes. These benefits included tuition in private schools, apartments and cars. Weisselberg is accused of evading more than $ 900,000 in municipal, state and federal taxes as a result of the scheme, according to the indictment. He also alleges that he received over $ 133,000 in tax refunds to which he was not entitled. Prosecutors allege the scheme lasted 15 years.
The former president and members of his family have not been charged. Investigators said their work was continuing.
The courtroom contained dozens of masked spectators, mostly journalists, seated in a separate seat under social distancing protocols. The hearing lasted less than half an hour. Vance and James both attended the hearing, arriving together and sitting next to each other in the front row. They left together at the end of the debate, without comment.
Weisselberg was taken to the 11th floor courtroom in handcuffs and then released before the hearing began.
Lawyers for the Trump Organization have accused prosecutors of improper motives.
“If the name of the company were anything else, I don’t think these charges would have been made,” said Alan Futerfas, saying similar cases are usually dealt with in civil court.
And Ron Fischetti, Trump’s personal lawyer, said in a statement that it was a “sad day” for Vance’s team.
“After years of investigating and collecting millions of documents and devoting the resources of dozens of outside prosecutors and consultants, is that all they have?” he said. âIn my 50 years of practice, I have never seen this office carry a case like this and, quite frankly, I am amazed. The district attorney is supposed to be apolitical, but everyone knows that the only reason they’re suing this case is because it’s ‘Trump.’ As far as we’re concerned, this case is over. “
Weisselberg’s indictment may also disappoint Trump’s political opponents, who have hoped for years that his tax returns would contain evidence of criminal activity that could put the former president himself in personal legal danger.
Trump did not respond to reporters’ questions about the New York case during his visit to Texas on Wednesday, but then issued a terse statement through his Save America PAC.
“Do people see the prosecutors of the radical left and what they are trying to do to 75 million +++ voters and patriots, for what it is?” Trump said.
Earlier in the week, the former president called New York prosecutors “rude, mean and totally biased,” and said his firm’s actions were “common practice throughout the business community. American and by no means a crime “.
The White House did not directly weigh in on the expected indictments, although Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday that President Joe Biden “made it clear that it was high time the richest Americans paid their fair share. “
Vance’s office examined alleged âsecret moneyâ payments made to women on Trump’s behalf and the company’s property and tax assessments, among others.
Weisselberg has come under scrutiny, in part because of questions about his son’s use of a Trump apartment at little or no cost. Barry Weisselberg, who managed a Trump-operated ice rink in Central Park, said in a 2018 divorce statement that the Trump Park East apartment was a “corporate apartment, so we didn’t have rent.”
Barry Weisselberg’s ex-wife Jen Weisselberg cooperated with both investigations and gave investigators tons of tax records and other documents.
Duncan Levin, Jen Weisselberg’s lawyer, told POLITICO his client made the case possible. She has met with prosecutors on several occasions to discuss the benefits that her ex-husband’s family members have received.
âThe case is a very serious one involving millions of dollars in employee benefits having been paid instead of a salary,â Levin said, âand Jen Weisselberg was aware of first-hand conversations about paying some of these benefits, and she reported those conversations to prosecutors.
“The fact that these charges are coming in now is undoubtedly a direct result of the work Jen Weisselberg has done to put together leads for prosecutors and provide them with documents to support these charges,” Levin added. “I think their cooperation has been invaluable to them, and we are very happy to see them move forward.”
The Trump Organization is the business entity through which the former president manages his many entrepreneurial affairs, including his investments in office towers, hotels and golf courses, his numerous marketing deals and his television activities.
Trump’s sons Donald Jr. and Eric have been in charge of the day-to-day operations of the company since he became president.
James Repetti, a tax attorney and professor at Boston College Law School, said a company like the Trump Organization would generally be responsible for withholding taxes, not only on wages, but also on other forms of compensation, such as the use of an apartment or a car.
Such benefits would not be considered taxable income if they were required as a condition of employment, Repetti said – including providing an apartment for the convenience of an employee who must be in the office or on the job site at times. irregular or frequent, or allow the use of a car for business purposes.
Another New York real estate personality, the late Leona Helmsley, was convicted of tax evasion in a federal case arising out of her business paying to renovate her home without her reporting it as income.
âThe IRS routinely looks for abuse of employee benefits when auditing private businesses,â Repetti said. “The temptation for the business is that it claims a tax deduction for the expense, while the recipient does not report it in income.”
Whether a jury finds the company guilty or innocent, the indictment could be a severe blow. Many banks and lenders refuse to do business with impeached entities. And many loans include clauses stating that banks can compel borrowers to repay them immediately if they are criminally charged. A possible exoneration will not reverse these financial consequences, which is why many prosecutors are reluctant to indict companies.
Speaking to reporters, Futerfas said that “we certainly hope that there will be no significant effects” on the business operations of the Trump Organization because of Thursday’s accusations.
Nick Niedzwiadek and The Associated Press contributed to this report.