Jury selection begins Monday in the Trump Organization’s tax fraud and grand larceny trial in New York, a symbolic moment after years of investigations that put former President Donald Trump’s business dealings before a jury.
Trump is not charged in the case and is not expected to be involved in any wrongdoing, but the charges against the real estate company he built from scratch are the closest any indictment has come to Trump, and the political ramifications of the case have irked the former president, the people said with knowledge of the matter.
A possible plea deal was discussed several weeks ago between Trump Organization lawyers and the Manhattan district attorney’s office, but they went nowhere, people familiar with the matter said.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg wanted the Trump Organization entities to plead guilty to crimes; lawyers for Trump had proposed a plea to a misdemeanor, the people said. Trump declined to accept any plea, they said, in part because of the potential political impact of admitting any guilt.
Two Trump Organization entities are charged with nine counts of tax fraud, grand larceny and falsifying business records in what prosecutors say was a 15-year scheme to defraud tax authorities by failing to report and pay taxes on employee compensation.
If convicted, the Trump Organization would face maximum fines of $1.6 million — the highest allowed under New York state law for the alleged conduct. The company will not be dissolved or face any other consequences. The Trump Organization has pleaded not guilty and has said the prosecution is politically motivated.
New York’s star witness is longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, who has taken paid leave from the firm where he has worked for nearly 50 years.
Weisselberg pleaded guilty in August to failing to pay taxes on $1.7 million in compensation he received in the form of a company-financed apartment in New York City, the lease on two Mercedes Benz, private school tuition for two of his grandchildren and personal expenses including new beds and flat screen TV. As CFO, Weisselberg was the top executive handling the company’s books.
Over the past several weeks, Weisselberg has been meeting with Manhattan prosecutors and lawyers for the Trump Organization to prepare his testimony. He is not expected to implicate Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump or Eric Trump when he testifies.
Under his plea agreement, Weisselberg agreed to testify truthfully at trial, but he is not in a cooperative agreement with prosecutors, who continue to investigate the Trump Organization’s finances.
If he complies with the terms of the plea agreement, Weisselberg will face 100 days in jail, compared with the 15 years in state prison that prosecutors said they would seek if they are dissatisfied with his testimony.
“He is obligated to testify truthfully regardless of whether prosecutors or defense attorneys ask him questions,” Weisselberg’s attorney, Nicholas Gravante Jr., said. from Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. “This is not a cooperative agreement as he is not required to meet with either party to be interviewed or prepared prior to his testimony. However, Mr. Weisselberg has chosen to meet, has met and will continue to meet with both sides to ensure his testimony goes smoothly.”
Jeffrey McConney, the Trump Organization’s controller, is also expected to testify for the government. He is named as a co-conspirator in the indictment, but was given immunity to testify before the state grand jury investigating the company.
Trump’s decision to move on appears to come as his legal troubles intensify. The Justice Department is investigating Trump’s handling of classified documents and presidential records at Mar-a-Lago, as well as efforts to stop the certification of the 2020 election results and transfer of power to President Joe Biden.
Trump is also under criminal investigation by the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office in Georgia for efforts to undermine the election results in the peach state.
His legal exposure goes beyond the criminal investigations and includes multiple lawsuits ranging from the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, a defamation suit filed by former magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll, to a $250 million lawsuit filed last month by New York State Attorney General Letitia James. James sued Trump and his three oldest children, alleging that they had defrauded lenders and insurance companies by manipulating the value of condominiums, golf courses and office buildings on accounting records used to obtain favorable prices. Trump has denied wrongdoing in all legal proceedings.
The Trump team consists of New York criminal defense attorneys Alan Futerfas and Susan Necheles. They recently brought to trial two Philadelphia-based lawyers who represented Trump during his second impeachment trial on Jan. 6: Michael van der Veen, a personal injury attorney, and William Brennan, who has represented clients on gun and sexual assault charges . .
The lead prosecutors in the case are Susan Hoffinger, the executive assistant district attorney and chief of investigations and longtime criminal defense attorney, and senior prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, who has been with the Manhattan district attorney’s office for over two decades. He has prosecuted dozens of cases, including nearly a dozen members of the Proud Boys for a 2018 assault outside the Republican Club on New York’s Upper East Side.