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Trump Org.’s longtime CFO testifies at company’s fraud trial

Donald Trump’s longtime finance chief took the witness stand Tuesday at the Trump Organization’s criminal tax fraud trial, making his long-awaited turn as the star prosecution witness after pleading guilty to evading taxes on $1.7 million in company-paid perks, including a Manhattan apartment and luxury cars.

November 16, 2022
By MICHAEL R. SISAK
16 November 2022

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s longtime finance chief took the witness stand Tuesday at the Trump Organization’s criminal tax fraud trial, making his long-awaited turn as the star prosecution witness after pleading guilty to evading taxes on $1.7 million in company-paid perks, including a Manhattan apartment and luxury cars.

Allen Weisselberg, a senior adviser and former chief financial officer at Trump’s company, has intimate knowledge of the company’s financial dealings from his nearly five decades working there. But he is not expected to implicate Trump or any members of the Trump family in his testimony.

Weisselberg’s testimony is required as part of a plea agreement he reached in August. If he testifies truthfully and meets other terms of the deal, he’ll be sentenced to five months in jail and could be released with good behavior after about 100 days. Otherwise, he could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

Weisselberg will remain free on bail until he is formally sentenced following the company’s trial.

The Trump Organization — the entity through which former President Donald Trump manages his real estate holdings, marketing deals and other ventures — is accused of helping some top executives avoid paying income taxes on compensation they got in addition to their salaries over a 15-year span.

Prosecutors argue that the Trump Organization — through its subsidiaries Trump Corp. and Trump Payroll Corp. — is liable for the scheme because Weisselberg, the longtime finance chief, was a “high managerial agent” entrusted to act on behalf of the company and its various entities.

In pleading guilty, the 75-year-old Weisselberg pinned blame for the scheme on himself and other top company executives, including senior vice president and controller, Jeffrey McConney, who testified for the trial’s first five days.

The Trump Organization has denied wrongdoing. Its lawyers allege that Weisselberg concocted the scheme on his own, without Trump or the Trump family’s knowledge, and that the company didn’t benefit from his actions. If convicted, the company could be fined more than $1 million.

The company’s lawyers spent part of Monday and Tuesday’s court sessions attempting to preempt Weisselberg testimony, using their cross-examination questioning to underscore their assertion that others at the company, including Trump, knew nothing about the scheme.

The first two prosecution witnesses — McConney and company accounts payable supervisor Deborah Tarasoff — portrayed Weisselberg as a rogue agent who stressed secrecy about his various financial arrangements.

Both witnesses worked under Weisselberg, and both testified that they aided him in hiding benefits — telling jurors that they were just following orders. Tarasoff agreed with a defense lawyer’s description of Weisselberg as an exacting, authoritarian but deeply trusted micromanager.

Tarasoff said she prepared company checks for Weisselberg to pay his apartment rent and car lease payments. She said she prepared checks from Trump’s private account to pay tuition for private schooling for Weisselberg’s grandchildren.

In September 2016, as Trump’s presidential election neared, Tarasoff said Weisselberg ordered her to start deleting notations about some of the transactions in the company’s bookkeeping system. Tarasoff said she didn’t think Weisselberg was asking her to do anything illegal. But even if he had, she said: “I guess I would because he’s the boss and he told me to do it.”

Weisselberg is the only person to face criminal charges so far in the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation of the company.

Weisselberg started working for the company in 1973, when it was run by Trump’s father, Fred. Following his July 2021 arrest, the company changed his title from CFO to senior adviser. The CFO position remains vacant.

Prosecutors alleged that the Trump Organization gave untaxed fringe benefits to senior executives, including Weisselberg, for 15 years. Weisselberg alone was accused of defrauding the federal government, state and city out of more than $900,000 in unpaid taxes and undeserved tax refunds.

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