Trump Organization, CFO Allen Weisselberg pleads not guilty to tax crimes


The Trump Organization and its finance chief Allen Weisselberg pleaded not guilty Thursday to criminal charges in an alleged 15-year tax evasion scheme.

New York prosecutors claim the company gave Mr. Weisselberg more than $1.7 million in “off-the-books” payments to cover personal expenses like car and rent fees that were never reported to the IRS, allowing the executive to avoid paying more than $800,000 in taxes.

Other top executives also allegedly benefitted from the scheme.

Former President Donald Trump has consistently defended the business practices of the Trump Organization and accuses the Democrat-led Manhattan District Attorney’s Office of conducting a political “witch-hunt.”    

Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Carey Dunne countered that criticism on Thursday.

“Politics has no role in the grand jury chamber, and I can assure your honor that it played no role here,” the assistant district attorney said. “The charges were considered by an impartial grand jury, and we look forward to this court’s review of the grand jury minutes, which will confirm that impartiality,” he said.

The 11-count complaint outlines charges including: scheme conspiracy, grand larceny, criminal tax fraud and falsifying business records. It is the first criminal lawsuit filed in connection with an ongoing two-year probe into Mr. Trump’s business practices.

The allegations come after attorneys for the Trump Organization met with prosecutors twice in recent weeks in an attempt to dissuade them from filing suit. Mr. Weisselberg surrendered to authorities Thursday morning before he was arraigned in a lower Manhattan court in the afternoon.

Mr. Weisselberg has been a Trump employee for nearly 50 years and is seen as a loyal member of the former president’s inner circle  but that loyalty is likely to tested as pressure builds on him to cooperate with prosecutors.

Daniel Goldman, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, tweeted Thursday that the prosecutors need Mr. Weisselberg’s help if they want to nab Mr. Trump.

“After reading this indictment, I continue to think Trump will not be charged without Weisselberg’s cooperation, which I don’t expect,” tweeted Mr. Goldman, who served as lead counsel for House Democrats during the first Trump impeachment inquiry. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen tweeted Wednesday that “Weisselberg is not the key to a Trump indictment.” 

Cohen is a former Trump ally who is currently under house arrest after pleading guilty to tax evasion and campaign finance violations.

Mr. Weisselberg’s attorneys, however, said Thursday that he will fight the case, which they argue should be resolved by civil tax officials. He is represented by Alan S. Futerfas, Bettina Schein and Susan R. Necheles.

“In our view, this case was brought because the name is Trump,” the attorneys said in a statement after the arraignment. “This case signals that it is now open season for local prosecutors to target federal political opponents and adversaries.”

Attorney General Letitia James, who has been co-leading the Trump probe with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., says the lawsuit is an important step.

“Today is an important marker in the ongoing criminal investigation of the Trump Organization and its CFO, Allen Weisselberg,” Ms. James said in a statement. “This investigation will continue, and we will follow the facts and the law wherever they may lead.” 

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