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Closing arguments begin in the Trump Organization tax fraud case

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Closing arguments began Thursday in the tax fraud case against the Trump Organization, which is accused of a sweeping, 15-year scheme to compensate top executives of former President Donald Trump’s company off the books.

The defense began by repeating testimony from the prosecution’s key witness in the criminal trial, former company finance director Allen Weisselberg, and others.

Attorneys for the Trump Organization laid out their case that Weisselberg committed his crimes for personal gain, saying prosecutors at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the ex-CFO was doing so on behalf of the company. did.

“We’re here today for one reason and one reason only, because of Allen Weisselberg’s greed,” said attorney Susan Necheles. She added that Weisselberg “wanted a deal with the government because he knew he was doing something wrong and was afraid of a long prison sentence.”

But prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said whether Weisselberg was motivated by greed “should never be in question.”

“It wasn’t that they didn’t know what they were doing was illegal,” he said of the Trump Organization. “They don’t care.”

Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion, agreed to testify against his former employer in exchange for a five-month prison sentence. Prosecutors say he received $1.76 million in “indirect worker compensation” through the scheme, which included a rent-free apartment, expensive cars, private tuition for his grandchildren and new furniture. Other executives received similar benefits and bonuses as independent contractors, saving the company from payroll taxes.

The ex-CFO testified that the Trumps were unaware of his plans, but that Trump’s oldest sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, didn’t punish him after they found out.

Weisselberg said he had “betrayed” the Trump family’s trust in him. While Trump and his sons were aware of the benefits he received for signing the checks, they were unaware of any fraud, he said. And while the company benefited from its scam by not having to pay payroll taxes or Medicare taxes, Weisselberg said it was his “own personal greed that led to this.”

Former CFO Allen Weisselberg leaves the courtroom during a trial at the New York Supreme Court in New York on Nov. 17.Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images file

Weisselberg testified that the only other person in the company who knew about the tax fraud scheme was the controller, Jeffrey McConney, who was called as the first witness in the trial and was granted immunity for his testimony. However, McConney testified that Weisselberg told him that Trump knew about the tax settlement when he ran the company.

Necheles said Weisselberg “micromanaged” McConney, showing emails asking Weisselberg for permission to wire money or write a check. She noted that McConney testified that he thought if he “started refusing or fighting back I was going to lose my job”.

Necheles also recounted McConney’s testimony alleging that Matthew Calamari, the company’s chief operating officer, was a beneficiary of the scam. “The tax scheme was created to benefit Weisselberg and Calamari so they could cheat on their personal taxes. It was all about their personal taxes,” she said.

Necheles also brought forward the testimony of Donald Bender, a partner at the former Trump Organization accounting firm, Mazars USA. Bender said he had no recollection of seeing emails from company executives about Weisselberg’s income cuts for company-paid perks and that Weisselberg had not informed him of the tax settlement. But Necheles claimed that Bender got too close to Weisselberg and failed to warn the Trumps about the scam, saying the accountant’s behavior was “so problematic” that “prosecutors decided not to call him as a witness.”

Although he was removed as CFO after being indicted, Weisselberg testified that his duties have largely remained the same and he still earns the same amount — about $1 million a year. The company also paid for the lawyers who represented him in the case, he said.

Lawyers for the company, which pleaded not guilty, argued that Weisselberg acted alone. Trump, who announced his 2024 presidential bid last month, has not been charged in the case.

After lawyers complete their arguments, the 12-member jury will begin deliberations on Monday.

The Trump Organization could face fines of up to $1.6 million if convicted on all counts. A conviction could also hamper the company’s ability to obtain future financing, experts say.

The former president has portrayed the allegations as a political hit.

“There’s never been a ‘Fringe Benefits’ case like this,” Trump said in a post on his Truth Social platform last month. apartment, or payments (not even from us as a tax deduction!) for the education of his grandchildren? For this he will be handcuffed and imprisoned?”

The company has also become mired in other legal troubles. The New York Attorney General’s office also sued the company, Trump and his oldest children last month, alleging that they overstated the company’s financial assets by billions of dollars. The civil suit, which Trump has also dismissed as a politically motivated “witch hunt,” seeks to impose about $250 million in fines and permanently ban Trump and his three oldest children from serving as officers of New York-based companies.

Adam Reiss, Adam Reiss, Dareh Gregorian and Rebecca Shabad contributed.

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