The biggest takeaway from Thursday’s indictment of the Trump Organization and its Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg is that more charges could be coming, former Manhattan borough and tax prosecutors told TPM.
“This is a preliminary charging document, as I see it,” Bennett Gershman, a former Manhattan DA prosecutor and professor at Pace Law, told TPM. “You’ve got an ironclad case against Weisselberg, an ironclad case against the Trump Org, and they want to make that very clear right out front.”
“This is just a first step,” held Michael Shapiro, a prosecutor and attorney in New York City. “The DA’s office is not particularly interested in having their ultimate goal be Allen Weisselberg; their ultimate goal was to go after Trump and members of his family.”
Brian Galle, a former DOJ tax prosecutor, told TPM that while prosecutors have an interest in concealing what they may or may not know about potential future targets, there were some “hints” in the indictment.
In particular, Galle said, the document contained allegations that other, unnamed executives participated in the same income concealment schemes of which Weisselberg is accused, and that at least two other employees received the same benefits: free leases on Mercedes-Benz cars and rent-free apartments.
“This looks like a pretty standard tax evasion case like you’d see in a lot of family owned businesses,” Galle said. “You’d see senior executives taking corporate money for heir own personal use and not reporting it as income.”
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office described the case as “ongoing” in a statement in court on Thursday, during Weisselberg and the Trump Org’s arraignment.
A Manhattan grand jury charged Weisselberg, the Trump Org, and the Trump Payroll Corp. with tax fraud, falsifying business records, grand larceny, and scheme to defraud.
Others have argued that this could be it for the Manhattan DA’s investigation.
“They’re not going to create documents that don’t exist. They can only charge what the evidence they have supports,” Daniel S. Goldman, a former House impeachment counsel said on MSNBC.
"You have to recognize that these prosecutors are not making up facts. They're not going to create documents that don't exist. They can only charge what the evidence they have supports" – @danielsgoldman on why prosecutors may not go forward with more charges w/ @NicolleDWallace pic.twitter.com/xKKlcAtwAE
— Deadline White House (@DeadlineWH) July 1, 2021
And while Weisselberg faces up to fifteen years in prison if convicted on the charges, the allegations left some wondering what else might be coming down the pike.
Shapiro described the Trump Org charges as “small potatoes,” at least as they compare to the initial allegations that the company would inflate and deflate the book value of its assets for its own financial gain.
“The potential penalties to the Trump Org are relatively small — all that they could do to an organization is fine it, and make it pay restitution,” Shapiro said. “And the potential fines and restitution in this case are at most hundreds of thousands or low millions of dollars, which even to the Trump Organization, is probably not a big hit.”
“You can’t put an organization in jail,” Shapiro added.
The Trump Org’s attorneys have argued that the firm is being prosecuted for conduct that’s common across corporate America, and that fringe benefits are normal for high-level executives.
Galle, a former DOJ tax prosecutor, laughed when asked about that line of argument.
“I don’t know exactly how many cases like this I prosecuted, but it was probably the plurality of cases that I prosecuted when I was a prosector,” he told TPM. “This is a very common set of facts where you get stuff in kind from the corporation and you think you’re being cute by not reporting it as income and you’re using it for your own luxury lifestyle.”
The question of further charges may hinge on Weisselberg, whose attorneys issued a statement saying only that he would “fight these charges in court.”
Prosecutors have reportedly sought Weisselberg’s cooperation in the case for months, with no success. The indictment described an unnamed relative of Weisselberg’s who received similar benefits as the CFO from the Trump Org without naming the person, stoking speculation that prosecutors may have the accountant’s family in their crosshairs.
“If Weisselberg faces not only his own incarceration, but that of his children, if there’s that possibility, it’s hard to see see how he can be loyal to Trump and throw his children into the gutter,” Gershman said. “But we’ll have to wait and see.”