NEW YORK — A top executive at former President Donald Trump’s family business pleaded guilty Thursday to evading taxes in a deal that could potentially make him a star witness against the company at a fall trial.
Allen Weisselberg, Trump Organization’s CFO, pleaded guilty in this case to 15 charges.
In a low, somewhat hoarse voice, he admitted taking in over $1.7 million worth of untaxed perks — including school tuition for his grandchildren, free rent for a Manhattan apartment and lease payments for a luxury car — and explicitly keeping some of the plums off the books.
Judge Juan Manuel Merchan agreed to sentence Weisselberg to five months’ incarceration at New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex, although he will be eligible for release much earlier if he behaves well behind bars. Judge Juan Manuel Merchan said Weisselberg would have to pay almost $2 million in taxes and penalties, as well as interest.
Weisselberg is required to be a witness for prosecution when Trump Organization’s trial begins in October. Weisselberg, along with other executives are accused of helping to avoid income tax by not accurately reporting their compensation to the government. Trump has not been charged.
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When a journalist inquired about his message to Trump, Weisselberg didn’t respond.
Weisselberg’s lawyer Nicholas Gravante Jr. said his client pleaded guilty “to put an end to this case and the years-long legal and personal nightmares it has caused for him and his family.”
“We are glad to have this behind him,” the lawyer added.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement that Weisselberg’s plea “directly implicates the Trump Organization in a wide range of criminal activity and requires Weisselberg to provide invaluable testimony in the upcoming trial against the corporation.”
“We look forward to proving our case in court against the Trump Organization,” he added.
Testimony by Weisselberg could potentially weaken the Trump Organization’s defense. The company may be fined or placed on probation if it is convicted.
Weisselberg, 75, is the only person to face criminal charges so far in the Manhattan district attorney’s long-running investigation of the company’s business practices.
Seen as one of Trump’s most loyal business associates, Weisselberg was arrested in July 2021. His lawyers have argued the Democrat-led district attorney’s office was punishing him because he wouldn’t offer information that would damage Trump.
In addition, the district attorney investigated whether Trump and his company had lied to the banks or government regarding the property’s value in order to reduce taxes or get loans.
According to Mark Pomerantz (ex-prosecutor), the former chief of the probe, the then-district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. initiated the investigation and directed his deputy to present evidence before a grand jury to seek an indictment against Trump.
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Bragg became Vance’s successor after he left office and the grand jury was disbanded. Both the Democrats who prosecuted Vance are his successors, Bragg. Bragg stated that the investigation continues.
The Trump Organization is not involved in Weisselberg’s expected guilty plea Thursday and is scheduled to be tried in the alleged compensation scheme in October.
Prosecutors allege that Weisselberg was a senior executive who received fringe benefits without tax from the company for over 15 years. Weisselberg, alone, was charged with defrauding the federal government and state of $900,000 and undeserved tax returns.
The most severe charge against Weisselberg (grand larceny) could result in a 15-year sentence under state law. However, the penalty for grand larceny is not mandatory and most tax-related offenders don’t end up in prison.
Tax fraud charges against Trump Organization can result in a penalty of up to $250,000 or double the amount of unpaid tax.
Trump was not charged with the criminal investigation. The Republican has decried the New York investigations as a “political witch hunt” and has said his company’s actions were standard practice in the real estate business and in no way a crime.
Last week, Trump sat for a deposition in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ parallel civil investigation into allegations that Trump’s company misled lenders and tax authorities about asset values. Trump invoked the Fifth Amendment’s protection from self-incrimination over 400 times.
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