There are about a hundred Donald Trump-related investigations happening at the moment, so today I’ll save you the Google with this brief rundown of the Trump Organization criminal tax fraud case, which is wrapping up closing arguments either this evening or sometime tomorrow morning. The jury will then begin its deliberations.
The criminal tax fraud trial was born out of the Manhattan district attorney’s three-year long investigation into Donald Trump’s business practices. The Trump Organization has been accused of a 15-year long scheme to save on taxes by compensating certain top executives off the books. The trial has focused on whether the organization is guilty of tax fraud after it was revealed that the personal expenses of certain company executives were covered by the organization in place of some annual income. Prosecutors also allege that the Trump Org paid some employees as independent contractors instead of full-time employees. The case is focused on two entities within the Trump Organization, the Trump Corporation and the Trump Payroll Corporation.
The case has received heightened attention due to the prosecution’s star witness, former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, who this summer pleaded guilty to tax-evasion charges and agreed to testify against the Trump Organization in this trial as part of a plea agreement, which reduced his sentence to just five months in prison. Prosecutors allege that Weisselberg was paid $1.76 million in “indirect employee compensation” over the course of 15 years, compensation that included a glitzy rent-free apartment, fancy vehicles, coverage of his grandkids’ private school tuition and other luxury items, like furniture.
Weisselberg testified that Donald Trump himself didn’t know about the special compensation he’d set up for himself, but the ex-Trump Org official also admitted that Trump’s eldest sons found out about his actions and didn’t do anything to stop him. He also testified that Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump were aware of the perks he was giving himself because they signed the checks, but they didn’t know he was committing fraud.
Throughout the course of the trial, prosecutors have been trying to show that Weisselberg was taking these actions “in behalf of” the Trump Organization. Much of the Trump’s Organization lawyers’ defense has centered on arguing the Weisselberg acted alone and out of greed.
“We are here today because of one reason and one reason only, because of the greed of Allen Weisselberg,” Trump Organization lawyer Susan Necheles said during closing arguments that began Thursday. She claimed that Weisselberg “wanted a deal with the government because he knew he did something wrong and was afraid of a long prison sentence.”
“It wasn’t that they didn’t know what they were doing was illegal,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass argued referring to the Trump Organization. “It’s that they didn’t care.”
If the jury convicts the Trump Organization it could face $1.7 million in fines, but the reputational harm to the business’ standing with banks and other partners could be ultimately prove more costly.
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