Jury selection begins Monday in the Trump Organization’s criminal tax fraud and grand larceny trial in New York, a symbolic moment following years of investigations that places former President Donald Trump’s business before a jury.
Trump is not a defendant in the case and is not expected to be implicated in any wrongdoing, but the charges against the real estate business he built from the ground up are the closest any prosecutor has gotten to Trump, and the political ramifications of the case has irritated the former President, people familiar with the matter say.
A possible plea deal was discussed several weeks ago between Trump Organization lawyers and the Manhattan district attorney’s office, but they went nowhere, people familiar with the matter said.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg wanted the Trump Organization entities to plead guilty to felony counts; lawyers for Trump had suggested a plea to a misdemeanor, the people said. Trump rebuffed taking any plea, they said, in part because of the potential political impact it could have of admitting any guilt.
Two Trump Organization entities are charged with nine counts of tax fraud, grand larceny and falsifying business records in what prosecutors allege was a 15-year scheme to defraud tax authorities by failing to report and pay taxes on compensation provided to employees.
If convicted, the Trump Organization would face maximum fines of $1.6 million – the most allowed under New York state law for the charged conduct. The company would not be dissolved or face any other consequences. The Trump Organization has pleaded not guilty and has said the prosecution is politically motivated.
New York’s star witness is the Trump Organization’s long-time Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, who is on paid leave from the company where he has worked for nearly 50 years.
Weisselberg pleaded guilty in August for failing to pay taxes on $1.7 million in off-the-books compensation he received in the form of a company-funded apartment in New York City, the lease on two Mercedes Benz, private school tuition for two of his grandchildren, and personal expenses including new beds and flat-screen televisions. As CFO, Weisselberg was the top executive handling the books of the company.
Over the past several weeks Weisselberg has met with Manhattan prosecutors and lawyers for the Trump Organization to prepare for his testimony. He is not expected to implicate Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump or Eric Trump when he testifies.
Under his plea deal, Weisselberg agreed to testify truthfully at the trial, but he is not in a cooperation deal with the prosecution, which continues to investigate the Trump Organization’s finances.
If he lives up to the terms of the deal, Weisselberg will face 100 days in jail, compared with 15 years in state prison that prosecutors said they would seek if they’re unsatisfied with his testimony.
“He is required to testify truthfully regardless whether the prosecutors or defense lawyers are asking him questions,” said Weisselberg’s attorney, Nicholas Gravante Jr. of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. “This is not a cooperation agreement in that he is not required to meet with either side to be interviewed or prepared in advance of his testimony. However, Mr. Weisselberg has elected to meet, has met, and will continue to meet with both sides in order to assure that his testimony goes smoothly.”
Also expected to testify for the government is Jeffrey McConney, the Trump Organization’s controller. He is named as a co-conspirator in the indictment but was granted immunity to testify before the state grand jury investigating the company.
Trump’s legal troubles continue
Trump’s decision to forge ahead appears comes as his legal troubles intensify. The Justice Department is investigating Trump’s handling of classified documents and presidential records at Mar-a-Lago as well as efforts to stop the certification of the 2020 election results and transfer of power to President Joe Biden.
Trump is also under criminal investigation by the Fulton County district attorney’s office in Georgia for efforts to subvert the election results in the peach state.
His legal exposure goes beyond the criminal investigations and include multiple lawsuits ranging from the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, a defamation lawsuit brought by former magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll, to a $250 million lawsuit filed last month by New York state Attorney General Letitia James. James sued Trump and his three eldest children and alleged they defrauded lenders and insurance companies by manipulating the value of condos, golf courses and office buildings on financial statements used to obtain favorable rates. Trump has denied wrongdoing in all of the lawsuits.
The Trump team is made up of New York criminal defense lawyers Alan Futerfas and Susan Necheles. They recently brought on for the trial two Philadelphia-based attorneys who represented Trump during his second impeachment trial tied to January 6: Michael van der Veen, a personal injury attorney, and William Brennan, who has represented clients on weapons charges and sexual assault charges.
The lead prosecutors on the case are Susan Hoffinger, the executive assistant district attorney and chief of investigations and long-time criminal defense lawyers, and senior trial counsel Joshua Steinglass, who has been in the Manhattan district attorney’s office for over two decades. He has prosecuted dozens of cases, including nearly a dozen members of the Proud Boys for a 2018 assault outside the Republican Club on New York’s Upper East Side.