NEW YORK, Oct 24 (Reuters) – Jury selection began on Monday in the tax evasion lawsuit of former US President Donald Trump’s company, with the Trump Organization set to accuse its longtime chief financial officer of lying in a case in which the company is accused of giving “off the books” benefits to certain senior executives.
The criminal trial in a New York state court is one of many legal issues for Trump as he considers another run for president in 2024. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office last year accused The eponymous real estate company of Trump and Allen Weisselberg, its chief financial officer at the time.
Weisselberg pleaded guilty in August for helping the company evade taxes for 15 years in a OK with the prosecutors who compel him to testify at this trial. The charges to which Weisselberg pleaded guilty included grand larceny and tax evasion, and he admitted to concealing $1.76 million in income.
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Weisselberg, considered the prosecution’s star witness, is to testify with company comptroller Jeffrey McConney.
Susan Necheles, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, said in a virtual hearing last week that challenging Weisselberg’s admission that he withheld information from accountants would be part of the company’s defense, according to a transcript from the proceedings held in private which were later unsealed.
“Weisselberg will testify that he believed everything he was doing was wrong,” Necheles said during the videoconference. “We think he’s lying and we want to show it.”
Necheles said Weisselberg and McConney relied on outside accountants “who led them to believe certain things were done correctly.”
The jury selection process has begun, with Judge Juan Merchan presiding over the trial in Manhattan which he said would last six weeks. The judge informed more than 100 prospective jurors of the charges, that the defendants pleaded not guilty and that proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt would be required to be convicted.
The judge also asked all potential jurors to say if they did not think they could participate in the trial.
Lawyers on both sides have the opportunity to question potential jurors, who may be asked about their personal opinion of Trump, a Republican businessman-turned-politician who first rose to prominence decades ago in the most populous city in the United States, and whether they can decide the case impartially. The city is strongly Democratic.
A potential juror, a 34-year-old woman, said she was excused from participating in the trial for work-related reasons, but told reporters outside the courtroom that she would not could not have been impartial.
“He’s guilty in my mind, whatever the case,” she said of Trump. “Everything he does, his company does.”
The Trump Organization, which operates hotels, golf courses and other real estate around the world, could face fines of up to $1.6 million for the three counts of tax evasion and six other counts she faces. The company pleaded not guilty. Trump is not charged in the case.
Weisselberg refused to cooperate with prosecutors in their investigation, only agreeing to testify as required by his plea agreement. Weisselberg meets with both sides to make sure his testimony goes smoothly, giving each the chance to learn what they can get “that is helpful to their respective positions,” his attorney Nicholas Gravante said.
In his guilty plea, Weisselberg admitted to conspiring with the company to have “substantial portions” of his earnings and those of other employees go unreported or misreported.
Weisselberg’s plea agreement stipulated that he avoided paying taxes on undeclared income from the Trump Organization in the form of benefits, including paying rent for an apartment in Manhattan, several Mercedes Benz automobiles , private school tuition for his grandchildren, and money and furniture for his apartment and house in Florida. Weisselberg said the scheme also included improper payments to some employees as compensation for non-employees.
Weisselberg has worked for the Trump Organization for nearly half a century. He went from chief financial officer to senior adviser when he and the company were indicted last year. After his guilty plea, he was placed on paid leave, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Trump Organization, after his guilty plea, called Weisselberg “a good and honorable man.”
Weisselberg has been promised a five-month prison term if he testifies honestly at trial, and he could be released after 100 days. He also agreed to pay nearly $2 million in taxes, penalties and interest to city and state tax authorities.
The criminal case is separate from a $250 million civil lawsuit filed by the New York attorney general against Trump, three of his adult children and his company in September, accusing them of overstating the value of assets and his net worth. to obtain favorable bank loans and insurance coverage. .
of trump other legal issues include a federal criminal investigation into the removal of government documents of the White House when he left office last year.
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Reporting by Karen Freifeld in New York; Additional reporting by Luc Cohen. Editing by Will Dunham and Noeleen Walder
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