Jury selection begins in Trump Organization fraud trial

Jury selection is due to begin Monday in the former president’s criminal trial that of Donald Trump eponymous family real estate company, which was accused last year by Manhattan prosecutors of orchestrating a year-long tax evasion scheme.

The Trump Organization has compensated some executives with unconventional benefits – including rent, garage charges and expenses at a luxury apartment building, tuition at a private school and luxury car leases — which were never factored into the company’s payroll taxes, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

“This was a 15-year tax evasion scheme,” said Carey Dunn, then general counsel in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, when the the indictment was not sealed last summer. “It was orchestrated by the most senior leaders.”

The company pleaded not guilty and Trump called the investigation a “hoax.” A Trump Organization spokesperson previously said in a statement that the company “looks forward to our day in court.”

A corporate defendant cannot serve jail time. A conviction could result in the Trump Organization paying a maximum fine of $10,000 and, potentially, allegedly evaded taxes.

More important, authorities say, are the potential collateral consequences that could flow from a conviction. Existing contracts could be voided if a counterparty has rules prohibiting doing business with criminals, and banks could consider applying for loans or ending their relationship with the Trump Organization.

“Reputational damage is a major issue when reviewing a corporate conviction,” said Daniel R. Alonso, a partner in Buckley’s New York office and former chief assistant prosecutor in the district attorney’s office. of the Manhattan district.

In this February 13, 2020, file photo, a New York taxi drives past the main entrance to Trump Tower in New York City.

NurPhoto via Getty Images, FILE

On the other hand, Alonso said, “In this case, I’m not sure the reputation of the Trump Organization can be tarnished much more than it has been.”

The trial, which is expected to last until early December, comes as Trump faces a half a dozen other investigations in his business practices, efforts to nullify the vote in Georgia, his alleged role in the Jan. 6 attack, and the removal of documents with White House classification marks.

Among those testifying in the Trump Organization lawsuit will be the company’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty last month after being charged in connection with the alleged scheme.

The longtime chief financial officer pleaded guilty to the 15 charges he faced, including conspiracy, criminal tax evasion, robbery and falsifying business records. He admitted he evaded taxes on nearly $2 million in earnings, including benefits like rent, luxury cars and private school tuition for his grandchildren.

Weisselberg, who first met Trump in the 1970s when he started working for his father, had to testify against the Trump Organization as part of his plea deal and serve five months in prison.

“The case against [the Trump Organization] is significantly strengthened,” prosecutor Josh Steinglass said of Weisselberg’s guilty plea during a hearing on the case in September.

“During the operation of the scheme, the defendants arranged for Weisselberg to receive indirect compensation from employees of the Trump Organization in the amount of approximately $1.76 million…so as to enable the corporate defendants to avoid reporting it to the tax authorities,” the indictment against Weisselberg said.

The charges are a “disgrace” and a “disgrace,” Trump told ABC News last year after the the indictment was not sealedcalling Weisselberg a “great person”.

The indictment says that beginning in 2005, Weisselberg used the company’s bank account to pay rent for his apartment, and he and others paid their utility bills using the company’s account. society. The indictment also accused Weisselberg of concealing “indirect compensation” by using payments from the Trump Organization to cover nearly $360,000 in high-end private school payments for his family and nearly $200,000 in luxury car rentals.

“Weisselberg intentionally caused indirect compensation payments to be omitted from his personal tax returns, despite knowing that these payments represented taxable income and were treated as compensation by the Trump Corporation in internal records,” the deed reads. of accusation.

The rest of the case against the Trump Organization relies heavily on documents, including spreadsheets and charts, as well as other accounting documents. Prosecutors say their challenge will be to tell a compelling story for the jury to follow.

The prosecution will be led by Steinglass, who has joined the prosecution team of the district attorney’s violent crimes division, and Susan Hoffinger, chief of the district attorney’s investigations division.

A corporate tax evasion case was not what prosecutors were looking for when they filed charges against Weisselberg last summer. Sources told ABC News that prosecutors had hoped Weisselberg would turn against Trump as part of a larger criminal investigation into the former president’s business practices that continues.

But the plea deal Weisselberg accepted contains no requirement that he cooperate in the criminal case against Trump himself, which focuses on whether Trump knowingly misled tax authorities, lenders and insurance brokers by providing inaccurate financial statements about the value of his real estate portfolio.

Trump, who has denied any wrongdoing, denounced the investigation as politically motivated.

Aubrey L. Morgan