Keep the blame away from Trump
- Defense lawyers in Donald Trump’s business tax evasion trial are trying to keep the blame on Trump.
- Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, is facing multiple charges, including a fraud scheme.
- The fraud scheme “started with” former CFO Allen Weisselberg and “ended” with him, a lawyer for the Trump Organization said.
Defense lawyers in the New York criminal tax fraud trial of former President Donald Trump’s international real estate company unveiled his strategy in the case on Monday – keep all blame off the former president and anyone else with the Trump name.
Prosecutors in the high-profile trial taking place in New York Supreme Court in Lower Manhattan allege that the Trump Organization carried out a 15-year scheme to deceive tax authorities by giving top executives significant compensation in the form of of tax-free “perks” like Trump-branded luxury cars and rent-free apartments.
Trump Organization attorney Susan Necheles told the jury during opening statements Monday that the fraud scheme “started with” former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg “and ended with Allen Weisselberg”.
Weisselberg pleaded guilty to the tax evasion scheme over the summer. He agreed to testify truthfully about his own role as part of a plea deal. Under the deal, Weisselberg must serve five months in prison and pay $2 million in restitution.
But he and two other key prosecution witnesses are still on Trump’s payroll and have coordinated with Trump’s lawyers.
All three can be expected to support Trump’s line of defense on the witness stand: that the tax evasion scheme was a conspiracy by the leaders of the Trump Organization, who held the top of the company, including Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and the former president — their owner and sole beneficiary — in the dark.
“Donald Trump did not know that Allen Weisselberg was cheating on Allen Weisselberg’s personal tax returns,” Necheles told the four women and eight men of the jury. “The evidence will be crystal clear on this.”
“Allen Weisselberg does not own the Trump Organization,” he stressed.
Another Trump Organization attorney, Michael van der Veen, has turned it into something of a mantra.
“Weisselberg did for Weisselberg,” he repeated no less than four times in his own opening.
Van der Veen compared Weisselberg to a “prodigal son” whose greedy scheming betrayed his “family” – the Trump family.
Weisselberg the “son” was nevertheless kept in the family, van der Veen said, using a biblical analogy to explain a sticky circumstance: Weisselberg and other prosecution witnesses are still paid salaries and even have their legal defenses covered by Trump.
It was out of charity and forgiveness that Weisselberg was kept on the payroll, van der Veen suggested.
“He made mistakes,” the lawyer said.
“Serious mistakes that put his freedom in jeopardy … crimes that hurt his company,” he added, against prosecutors’ insistence that the Trump Organization clearly benefited from a scheme that kept its employees happy. executives and saved them in Medicare contributions.
“He was removed from his position as financial director,” van der Veen continued. “But his ability to financially support his [own] the family has not been stripped from him.”
He added: “The meat of our defense is that Allen Weisselberg did not act at all with the intent to benefit the Trump Payroll Corporation.”
The Trump Corporation is the subsidiary of the Trump Organization that directly employs its executives, including Weisselberg. The Trump Payroll Corporation is the subsidiary that handles payroll. Both are doing business as the Trump Organization, and both are defendants in the case.
Weisselberg admitted to pocketing $1.7 million in tax-free perks over 15 years, including luxury Mercedes-Benz cars for himself and his wife, free use of Trump-branded apartments on Manhattan’s Hudson River and tuition for private schools of his grandchildren.
The scheme saved him nearly a million dollars in taxes over 15 years, prosecutors said.
But while “Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg” was the defense’s mantra, the prosecution’s mantra — that Weisselberg was a “high managerial agent,” a three-word phrase repeated in prosecutors’ opening — was a slightly less catchy.
Prosecutors must show that Weisselberg and a second executive who answered to him, former controller Jeff McConney, took actions on behalf of the company and were both “high-level agents” under the law, meaning that they were so high in the company that they can be assimilated. with the company itself.
“The scheme was carried out and authorized … at the highest level,” said Susan Hoffinger, the Manhattan district attorney’s chief of investigations, during opening statements. She promised jurors an entry in Donald Trump’s personal financial book and a check he signed linking him to the scheme.
“This case is about greed and deceit,” he told jurors. “Cheating on taxes.”
Trump’s company paid about $1.76 million in perks to Weisselberg over the past 15 years, Hoffinger told him, “and also paid cash for his personal holiday gifts.”
“We’re going to focus on the paper trail,” he promised, including W2 forms and other tax documents that he said were falsified to hide benefits from tax authorities.
“Why not just give Allen Weisselberg a raise?” she asked rhetorically, before answering, “because doing it legally would have cost the Trump Organization more.”
That included Weisselberg paying more in income taxes, and the company paying more in withholding taxes and Medicare contributions, he said.
The company also managed to “keep its trusted CFO happy by paying him more,” he said.
“Everybody wins here,” he said. “Allen Weisselberg and company… The problem with doing that is that it’s not legal.”