Closing arguments began Thursday in the tax fraud trial of the Trump Organization, which is accused of a sweeping 15-year scheme to compensate top executives at former President Donald Trump’s company off the books.
The defense began by recapping the testimony of the prosecution’s key witness in the criminal trial, the company’s former CFO Allen Weisselberg, and others.
Lawyers for the Trump Organization laid out their case that Weisselberg committed his crimes to benefit himself, saying prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney’s office could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the former CFO did so. on behalf of the company.
“We are here today for one reason only, because of Allen Weisselberg’s greed,” defense attorney Susan Necheles said. She added that Weisselberg “wanted a deal with the government because he knew he had done something wrong and he feared a long prison sentence.”
But prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said whether Weisselberg was motivated by greed “should never be in question.”
“It wasn’t that they didn’t know that what they were doing was illegal,” he said of the Trump Organization. “It’s just that they didn’t care.”
Weisselberg, who has pleaded guilty to tax evasion, agreed to testify against his former employer in exchange for a five-month jail sentence. Prosecutors say he received $1.76 million in “indirect employee compensation” through the scheme, which includes a free apartment, expensive cars, private school tuition for his grandchildren and new furniture. Other executives earned similar benefits and received bonuses as independent contractors, saving company payroll taxes.
The former CFO testified that the Trumps were unaware of his plans, but that Trump’s eldest sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, did not discipline him after finding out.
Weisselberg said he had “betrayed” the Trump family’s trust in him. Although Trump and his children knew of the benefits he received because they signed the checks, they were not aware of any fraud, he said. And while the company profited from his scams by not having to pay payroll or Medicare taxes, Weisselberg said it was his “personal greed that led him to this.”
Weisselberg testified that the only other person at the company who knew about the tax fraud scheme was its controller, Jeffrey McConney, who was called as the first witness in the trial and received immunity for his testimony. McConney, however, testified that Weisselberg had told him that Trump was aware of the tax scheme when he ran the company.
Necheles said Weisselberg “micromanaged” McConney, showing emails asking Weisselberg for permission to send money or write a check. He noted that McConney testified that he thought if he “started to refuse or defend himself, he would lose my job.”
Necheles also recounted McConney’s testimony alleging that Matthew Calamari, the company’s COO, was a beneficiary of the scam. “The tax scheme was made to benefit Weisselberg and Calamari so they could cheat on their personal taxes. It was about his personal taxes,” he said.
Necheles also raised testimony from Donald Bender, a partner at the Trump Organization’s former accounting firm, Mazars USA. Bender said he did not recall seeing emails from company executives about Weisselberg’s income cuts for company-paid extras and that Weisselberg did not inform him about the tax scheme. But Necheles alleged that Bender had gotten too close to Weisselberg and failed to alert the Trumps to the scam, saying the accountant’s behavior was “so problematic” that “prosecutors decided not to call him as a witness.”
Although he was removed as CFO after being indicted, Weisselberg testified that his duties have remained largely the same and he continues to earn the same amount of money: about $1 million a year. The company also paid for the lawyers who represented him in the case, he said.
Lawyers for the company, which has pleaded not guilty, argued that Weisselberg acted alone. Trump, who announced his 2024 presidential run last month, has not been charged in the case.
After the lawyers resolve the arguments, the 12-person jury will begin deliberations on Monday.
The Trump Organization could incur fines of up to $1.6 million if found guilty on all counts. A conviction could also hamper the company’s ability to obtain financing in the future, experts said.
The former president has presented the charges as a political coup.
“There has never been a ‘Front Benefits’ case like this before,” Trump said in a post on his Truth Social platform last month. apartment, or payments (we don’t even take them as a tax deduction!) for the education of his grandchildren? For this, they handcuff him and put him in jail?
The company has also been embroiled in other legal troubles. The New York attorney general’s office also sued the company, Trump and his eldest children last month, alleging they had overstated the company’s financial assets by billions of dollars. The civil suit, which Trump also dismissed as a politically motivated “witch hunt,” seeks to impose around $250 million in fines and permanently bar Trump and his three oldest children from serving as officers of any New York-based company.
Adam Reiss, Adam Reiss, dareh gregorian Y rebecca shabad contributed.