Trump’s company “misled” the tax authorities, the prosecutor says in the lawsuit
By Karen Freifeld and Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Former President Donald Trump’s real estate company defrauded tax authorities over a 15-year period, a New York prosecutor told a jury on Monday in his opening statement in the trial Trump Organization criminal charges of tax fraud.
The case is among mounting legal issues facing the 76-year-old Trump as he considers another bid for the presidency after losing in 2020.
The Trump Organization between at least 2005 and 2021 paid executives — including its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg — in perks such as rent and car rentals without reporting those benefits to tax authorities, it has said Susan Hoffinger, a prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
“This case is about greed and cheating, cheating on taxes,” Hoffinger said. “The scheme was carried out, directed and authorized at the highest levels of the accounting department in the company.”
Hoffinger said the company benefited from the scheme by “keeping its trusted CFO happy” and avoiding some taxes.
“Everybody wins here,” Hoffinger said. “Of course, everyone, but the tax authorities. The problem with doing so is that it is not legal.”
Opening statements from attorneys for the two Trump Organization units charged in the case — known as the Trump Corporation and the Trump Payroll Corporation — are expected later Monday.
If convicted, the company — which operates hotels, golf courses and other properties around the world — could face up to $1.6 million in fines. It could also further complicate the real estate firm’s ability to do business.
Trump, who is considering another White House run in 2024, has not been charged in the case. The Trump Organization has pleaded not guilty.
A panel of 12 jurors and six alternates were selected last week for the trial, in New York state court in Manhattan. An alternate juror was discharged Monday, leaving five.
The process is expected to last more than a month. A unanimous verdict is required to convict on each count of tax fraud, scheming to defraud, and falsifying business records.
Allen Weisselberg, the longtime chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, has agreed to testify as a prosecution witness in the trial as part of a deal for him to receive a five-month prison sentence.
Weisselberg, who was indicted with the company last year, admitted in August to colluding with the Trump Organization and others to fail to report or misreport substantial amounts of his income and expenses. other employees.
Weisselberg avoided taxes on $1.76 million in personal income himself through luxury perks, such as rent for an apartment in Manhattan.
A prosecutor told potential jurors last week Weisselberg worked for the defendants and may be “reluctant” to answer questions.
Weisselberg stepped down as CFO when he was indicted, but remained on the payroll as a senior adviser. After his guilty plea, he went on paid leave, a source told Reuters.
On the day he pleaded guilty, the Trump Organization called Weisselberg a “nice and honorable man” who had been harassed by law enforcement in a “politically motivated mission” to get Trump.
But in a preliminary hearing this month, a lawyer for the Trump Organization accused Weisselberg of lying, an indication of the bind the company is in.
Judge Juan Merchan, the judge overseeing the case, rejected the argument that the Trump Organization was targeted for selective prosecution.
Two top prosecutors in the case resigned in February, with one saying the felony charges against Trump, a Republican, were justified, but Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg raising doubts. Bragg, a Democrat, said the investigation is ongoing.
The 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 him of lying to banks and insurers by overstating the his real estate assets and Trump’s net worth.
While the case is pending, the attorney general seeks to appoint a monitor to oversee the company’s financial practices, a move that the company is challenging.
Trump also faces a federal criminal investigation into the removal of government documents from the White House when he left office last year.
(Reporting by Karen Freifeld and Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Alistair Bell)
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