New York Daily News: MANHATTAN – The Manhattan DA finally made his move.
The Trump Organization’s top financial executive was walked into a Manhattan courtroom in handcuffs on Thursday and charged with a laundry list of crimes that implicate the former president’s family business in what prosecutors described as an “audacious” tax fraud scheme that spanned nearly two decades.
After years of investigating, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. charged in a 15-count indictment that Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg and the company itself have engaged in the scheme since March 2005, issuing and receiving millions of dollars in “off the books” perks and disguising them as tax-exempt expenses.
Weisselberg, 73, is alone accused of having pocketed more than $1.7 million in such compensation. His illicit payouts include rent on apartments, payments on luxury cars, private school tuition fees, furniture and various other fringe benefits, cheating federal and state governments out of nearly $1 million in taxes in the process, according to the indictment.
Former President Donald Trump himself was not charged and there’s no immediate indication that he will be. The indictment did, however, note that Trump signed some of the checks at the center of the alleged tax fraud plot.
In a more direct hit at Trump, the namesake company that he has controlled for decades could face hefty fines as a result of the charges. The indictment could also severely limit the Trump Organization’s ability to do business.
In addition, Vance’s office suggested more indictments could be coming, saying the DA would not hold a press conference after Weisselberg’s arraignment because his case relates to “an active, ongoing investigation.”
Carey Dunne, an assistant Manhattan district attorney prosecuting the case, stated that the alleged crimes committed by Weisselberg and the Trump Organization are not “standard practice in the business community” — taking a direct shot at the ex-president, who claimed earlier this week that they were.
“To put it bluntly, this was a sweeping and audacious illegal payments scheme,” Dunne said in a packed downtown Manhattan courtroom.
Weisselberg, who has worked for Trump since the 1980s and is considered the company’s most senior executive not named Trump, pleaded not guilty to all charges, which included grand larceny, criminal tax fraud and conspiracy.
The Trump Organization, which was represented in court by attorney Alan Futerfas, also pleaded not guilty to charges of falsifying business records, criminal tax fraud and conspiracy.
Before entering his plea, Weisselberg’s face turned visibly red and his eyes darted across the room when a couple of detectives struggled to remove his handcuffs.
Weisselberg was allowed to go home afterward, though Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan ordered he must surrender his passport after prosecutors said he has “international tentacles” and could pose a flight risk.
After the hearing, Trump issued a statement blasting the charges against his company and trusted chief financial officer as parts of the “political Witch Hunt” he claims to have been a victim of since entering politics in 2015.
Trump’s attorneys offered a similar rebuke.
“This is all they have?” said Ronald Fischetti, a veteran defense attorney in New York City who leads Trump’s legal team. “In my 50 years of practice, I have never seen this office bring a case like this and, quite frankly, I am astonished. The district attorney is supposed to be apolitical, but everyone knows that the only reason they are proceeding with this case is because it is ‘Trump.’”
Thursday’s charges are the first to arise from a three-year investigation into the Trump Organization, which is being conducted jointly by Vance and State Attorney General Letitia James, both of whom were in the courtroom for Weisselberg’s arraignment.
Weisselberg, who was described by Trump in 2004 as a guy who “knows how to get things done,” has been a key subject in their investigation for months.
Investigators with the DA and AG offices have put immense pressure on Weisselberg in an apparent attempt to get him to cooperate against Trump, even exploring whether his adult sons allegedly committed similar tax crimes as him.
Thursday’s indictment noted that Weisselberg’s son, former Trump Organization executive Barry Weisselberg, took part in the tax fraud scheme by living for free in a Central Park South apartment for years without ever disclosing to tax authorities that his employer was covering his rent.
Despite the exposure to his family, the senior Weisselberg has refused to cave to demands for a deal with the prosecutors.
The charges add even more pressure on Weisselberg, and prosecutors may use threats of fines and potentially even jail time to get him to flip on Trump.
James signaled after Thursday’s indictment that the probe is far from over.
“This investigation will continue, and we will follow the facts and the law wherever they may lead,” the AG said.
In addition to alleged fringe company perks, James and Vance continue to investigate whether Trump and his company illegally manipulated asset values over a decades-long period to lower taxable income or obtain other favorable financial benefits, according to court records. Such practices could amount to various types of criminal fraud as well.
Vance is stepping down at the end of this year, meaning the brunt of the Trump prosecution will likely be handled by his successor.
No other sitting or former American president has ever before had his company face criminal indictment, and Trump vehemently denies any wrongdoing.
He has lashed out against Vance and James at an increasing rate in recent months as the New York prosecutors turned up the heat on Weisselberg and subpoenaed other Trump Organization executives, including controller Jeff McConney, to testify before a grand jury.
Beyond criminal exposure, Trump’s eponymous company is facing bleak financial prospects.
According to disclosure reports released in January, the Trump Organization’s revenue dropped by a whopping 38% in 2020.
Since then, the company has lost a string of lucrative contracts in New York and beyond due to private and public sectors wanting little to do with the Trump brand in the wake of the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Despite his legal woes, Trump remains widely popular among Republican voters, planning several campaign-style rallies across the country this summer and not ruling out another run for the White House in 2024.
At a kickoff rally in Ohio last month, Trump sounded upbeat as he looked ahead to next year’s congressional midterm elections.
“We will take back the House, we will take back the Senate, and we will take back America,” Trump said to cheers from thousands of supporters. “And we will do it soon.”