The Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, have been charged with a “sweeping and audacious illegal payment scheme” of tax-related crimes, marking the first criminal charges against the former president’s company following a years-long investigation by New York prosecutors.
The Guardian reports that Weisselberg, who has worked for the Trump family for nearly 50 years, surrendered to the authorities at the Manhattan criminal courthouse at 6.20am on Thursday and was charged by the Manhattan district attorney with failing to properly report company perks, including rent-free apartments, school fees and cars, in the latest stage of an escalating battle between New York prosecutors and the former president.
Reporters and TV trucks gathered outside the 100 Centre Street courthouse waiting for the hearing to start. The 15-count indictment against Weisselberg and the Trump Organization charged them with a scheme to defraud, grand larceny, criminal tax fraud and falsifying business records.
According to prosecutors the Trump Organization paid employees rent, utility bills, garage fees, school expenses and other living expenses without properly declaring them “so that they could and did pay federal, state and local taxes in amounts that were significantly less than the amounts that should have been paid”.
Carey Dunne, general counsel for the Manhattan district attorney, said the 15-year-long arrangement was “a sweeping and audacious illegal payments scheme”.
The scheme was “orchestrated by the most senior executives” at the Trump Organization, according to prosecutors, and Weisselberg was “one of the largest individual beneficiaries” of the scheme. He received $1.7m in illegal payments, according to the prosecutors, including rent, bills and garage fees for his Manhattan apartment and tuition expenses for Weisselberg’s family members.
Weisselberg and a lawyer for the Trump Organization pleaded not guilty.
In a statement the Trump Organization said: “This is not justice; this is politics.” Weisselberg is “a loving and devoted husband, father and grandfather” who is “being used by the Manhattan district attorney as a pawn in a scorched earth attempt to harm the former president”, the statement read.
The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, and the New York state attorney general, Letitia James, whose offices have been investigating Trump, took their places in the courtroom shortly before Weisselberg entered.
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The Trump executive was led in wearing a white face mask, slate blazer and pale shirt without a tie with handcuffs behind his back. He was released on own recognizance after the hearing (the crimes are not bail eligible), and turned in his passport.
While no charges were brought against Trump personally, the move still marks an extraordinary turning point for the former president and more are likely to follow. New York prosecutors are still investigating allegations of “hush money” paid to women who say they had sexual relations with Trump, and claims of real estate price manipulation.
The charges are a severe blow to the Trump Organization, which may now find it more difficult to raise money as the case continues. They also pose a challenge to Trump’s apparent political ambitions. The former president has begun a series of campaign-style rallies and is positioning himself for another run at the presidency in 2024.
Prosecutors have been pressing Weisselberg, 73, to cooperate with their investigations but with little success so far.
No one other than Trump has such a thorough knowledge of the Trump Organization. “They are like Batman and Robin,” Jennifer Weisselberg, ex-wife of Allen Weisselberg’s son Barry, told the New York Times. Jennifer Weisselberg has aided the investigation by Vance, into Trump’s business after a contentious divorce, supplying 10 bankers boxes of evidence including joint tax documents to investigators.
Duncan Levin, Jennifer Weisselberg’s lawyer, said his client was continuing to cooperate and “stands ready to testify” if and when the case goes to trial.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, testified before Congress in 2019 that Weisselberg helped orchestrate a cover-up to reimburse him for a $130,000 payment made to the adult film actor Stormy Daniels, who has claimed she had sex with Trump.
Cohen also testified that he and Weisselberg concocted phony valuations of Trump’s real estate holdings to devalue assets for tax purposes while inflating them for loan agreements.
Vance and James, are investigating both of those allegations.
Trump referenced the charges at a Fox News town hall on Wednesday. “New York radical left prosecutors come after me,” he said. “You got to always fight. You got to keep fighting.”