Trump company braces for criminal trial over off-the-books pay scheme
NEW YORK (AP) — More than three years after Manhattan prosecutors began investigating Donald Trump — after he went to the Supreme Court twice to gain access to his tax records — the only criminal trial resulting from their effort is about to begin.
No, the former president is not on trial. His business is.
The Trump Organization, the holding company for Trump’s buildings, golf courses and other assets, is accused of helping some top executives avoid income tax on compensation they received in addition to their salaries, such as rent-free apartments and luxury cars.
Trump signed some of the checks at the center of the case, but he is not charged with anything and is not expected to testify or attend the trial, which begins Monday with jury selection.
If found guilty, the Trump Organization could be fined more than $1 million, but that’s not the only potential consequence.
Ardent Trump supporters are unlikely to give up on him regardless of the outcome, but a guilty verdict could hamper his company’s ability to secure loans and close deals. New York City, for its part, could use the legal cloud as new justification to seek to oust the company from running a city-owned golf course.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, said his office’s investigation into Trump was « active and ongoing » and that no final decision had been made on whether he could do so. facing criminal charges in the future.
Trump, a Republican, called the investigation a « political witch hunt. »
The Trump Organization said it did nothing wrong and was looking forward « to having our day in court. »
Judge Juan Manuel Merchan expects the tax evasion trial, heavy with financial records and expert testimony, to take at least four weeks once the jury is assembled. Given Trump’s fame as a polarizing businessman and politician, it could take some time to find jurors who feel they can judge the case impartially.
The prosecution’s star witness is expected to be Allen Weisselberg, one of Trump’s most trusted executives.
Weisselberg pleaded guilty in August to receiving more than $1.7 million in untaxed benefits from the company, including tuition for his grandchildren, an apartment in Manhattan and cars Mercedes for him and his wife.
His testimony is part of a plea deal that sees him serving up to five months in New York’s Rikers Island prison complex, although he could be released after just over three months with good behavior. . The former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization must also pay nearly $2 million in taxes, penalties and interest and complete five years of probation.
Weisselberg, 75, has intimate knowledge of the Trump Organization’s financial dealings from nearly five decades at the company, but is not expected to involve Trump or any members of the Trump family. in his testimony.
In pleading guilty, Weisselberg blamed himself and other senior Trump Organization leaders, including Vice President and Senior Comptroller Jeffrey McConney.
McConney was granted limited immunity to testify before a grand jury last year and could also make an appearance on the witness stand at the trial. The company’s director of security, Matthew Calamari Jr., the son of chief operating officer Matthew Calamari Sr., also received immunity for grand jury testimony.
When the Trump Organization and Weisselberg were indicted in 2021, prosecutors called the tax scheme « radical and audacious » and said it was « orchestrated by top executives. »
Besides Weisselberg, two other Trump Organization executives, who have not been identified by name, also received significant under-the-table compensation, including lodging and car lease payments, according to the deed. charge.
« The purpose of the scheme was to compensate Weisselberg and other leaders of the Trump Organization in a manner that was ‘off the books,' » the indictment said.
The Trump Organization is the entity through which the former president runs his many businesses, including his real estate investments, numerous marketing deals and television businesses.
Trump’s sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, have been in charge of day-to-day operations since he became president. Because the criminal trial involves charges against the corporation, not individuals, the Trumps will not be held personally liable if a jury returns a guilty verdict.
The criminal case is one of two legal cases pending in New York courts that threaten to chip away at the gold-plated facade of Trump’s empire.
Last month, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a civil lawsuit accusing Trump and the Trump Organization of misleading banks and others for years about the value of his assets. The civil suit seeks $250 million and a permanent ban on Trump from doing business in the state.
A hearing is scheduled in that case for October 31 as James seeks an independent monitor to oversee the activities of the Trump Organization after he alleged the company was taking steps to avoid potential sanctions, such as incorporating a new entity named Trump Organization II.
These aren’t the only legal challenges Trump faces as he contemplates a potential run for the presidency.
Last week, Trump testified under oath in a lawsuit brought by E. magazine columnist Jean Carroll, who claims he raped her in the mid-1990s in a department store dressing room.
Meanwhile, the FBI continues to investigate Trump’s storage of sensitive government documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
A special grand jury in Georgia is investigating whether Trump and others tried to influence state election officials.
On Friday, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection issued a subpoena to Trump.
Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak and send confidential tips by visiting https://www.ap.org/tips/.
Michael R. Sisak, The Associated Press