The Trump Organization is on trial this week on what prosecutors claim is a 15 year plan to compensate senior executives of former President Donald Trump’s firm ‘off the books’ to help them avoid paying taxes – with the firm’s former chief financial officer appearing as the prosecution’s star witness.
Jury selection begins on Monday, with potential panelists likely to be questioned intensely about whether they can be impartial in a case involving the former president and his namesake company.
The Trump Organization and Weisselberg, its longtime chief financial officer, were indicted last year following a year-long investigation into the company’s financial practices by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Wesselberg, 75 years old, pleaded guilty to 15 felony charges in August.
As part of his plea deal, the loyal Trump confidant agreed to pay nearly $2 million in taxes, interest and penalties, and serve five months in prison followed by five years of probation. He also agreed “to testify honestly in the upcoming Trump Organization trial” or face a sentence of up to 5 to 15 years in prison, prosecutors said.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said Weisselberg used his position at the company “to defraud taxpayers and enrich himself,” and that his “plea deal directly implicates the Trump Organization in a wide range of ways.” of criminal activity and compels Weisselberg to provide invaluable testimony.”
Trump is not personally accused in the case and has blasted the investigation into his company and the charges against his longtime employee as part of a politically motivated “witch hunt.”
The company said in a statement at the time of Weisselberg’s plea that he was an “honorable man who for the past four years has been harassed, persecuted and threatened by law enforcement, particularly the District Attorney. district of Manhattan, in their endless, politically motivated quest to get President Trump.
Judge Juan Merchan, who will preside over the trial in New York State Supreme Court in Lower Manhattan, rejected almost all of the arguments presented by lawyers for the Trump Organization and Weisselberg in August, ruling that the evidence presented to the grand jury “was legally sufficient to support the charges in the indictment”, and that these proceedings were properly conducted and their “integrity was not impaired”.
The crimes that the charge alleges that the company committed conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud, criminal tax evasion and falsification of business records.
Under New York law, the Trump Organization faces up to approximately $1.6 million in penalties if convicted on all counts. Legal experts told NBC News that a conviction could also hamper the company’s ability to obtain financing.
The indictment states that “the program was intended to allow certain employees to significantly understate their compensation from the Trump Organization so that they could and had paid federal, state and local taxes for amounts significantly lower than the amounts that should have been paid.
“The scheme also allowed the Trump Organization to evade payment of payroll taxes that the Trump Organization was required to pay as part of employee compensation,” the indictment states.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of this program was Weisselberg, who received $1.76 million in “indirect employee compensation” from the company, according to the billing document. This included a rent-free apartment, expensive cars, private school tuition for her grandchildren, and new furniture.
The indictment did not name any of the other alleged beneficiaries, and only Weisselberg was charged.
The lawsuit comes at an already perilous time for Trump and his company.
The former president is being investigated by the Justice Department for removing classified documents from the White House and hoarding them at his Florida compound, and by the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office for possible interference in the 2020 elections in Georgia.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, who assisted the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in its investigation of the Trump Organization, has filed a separate lawsuit against Trump and the company, accusing it of overstatement of assets financials of the company billions of dollars.
The lawsuit seeks to impose approximately $250 million in penalties and permanently bar Trump and his three eldest children from serving as executives of New York-based companies.
Trump, the company and his campaign are also being sued by a group of protesters who say they were brutalized by candidate Trump’s security guards outside Trump Tower in 2015. That case is to go to trial in the Supreme Court of Bronx County in New York next week. .