Updated: July 2, 2021 9:51:36 am
The Trump Organisation, the real estate business that catapulted Donald Trump to tabloid fame, television riches and ultimately the White House, was charged Thursday with running a 15-year scheme to help its executives evade taxes by compensating them with fringe benefits that were hidden from authorities.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office, which has been conducting the investigation alongside the New York attorney general, also accused a top executive, Allen H. Weisselberg, of avoiding taxes on $1.7 million in perks that should have been reported as income. Weisselberg, Trump’s long-serving and trusted chief financial officer, faces grand larceny, tax fraud and other charges.
“To put it bluntly, this was a sweeping and audacious illegal payments scheme,” Carey Dunne, general counsel for the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, said during an arraignment in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
Dunne and the indictment described a deliberate effort by senior executives to underreport their income, in concert with the Trump Organization, by accepting secret perks that did not show up on tax documents. In the case of Weisselberg, the indictment said, the company kept his benefits off its books but recorded them in an internal spreadsheet.
The charges against the Trump Organization and Weisselberg — whom Trump once praised for doing “whatever was necessary to protect the bottom line” — ushered in a new phase of the district attorney’s sweeping inquiry into the business practices of Trump and his company.
The indictment took square aim at Weisselberg after months of increasing pressure on him to offer information that could help that broader inquiry. That effort is expected to continue, and now Weisselberg is under even greater pressure: He could face more than a decade in prison if he is convicted.
Trump was not charged, and no other executives were accused by name of wrongdoing.
Trump called the accusations a “continuation of the witch hunt that started” when he announced his presidential campaign. Asked if he was worried about the pressure being put on Weisselberg, he said only that his longtime lieutenant was an “honorable man.”
“I’m with him all the way,” he said.
Weisselberg pleaded not guilty. “He will fight these charges in court,” his lawyers said in a statement.
Lawyers for the Trump Organization called the case inappropriate and unjustified. “In our view, this case was brought because the companies’ name is Trump,” the lawyers said in a statement.
The 15-count indictment — which charged the Trump Organization with committing a scheme to defraud, criminal tax fraud and falsifying business records — also accused the company of avoiding its own obligations by not paying payroll taxes on the benefits.
It charged Weisselberg with failing to pay taxes on leased Mercedes-Benzes, bonuses and a rent-free apartment paid for by the company. And the indictment charged Weisselberg with grand larceny for obtaining tax refunds to which it said he was not entitled.
In the next phase of the broader investigation, prosecutors are expected to continue scrutinizing whether the Trump Organization manipulated property values to obtain loans and tax benefits.
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