Allen Weisselberg, former CFO of Trump Org, to plead guilty


NEW YORK (AP) — A top executive at former President Donald Trump’s family business pleaded guilty Thursday to tax evasion over a free apartment and other benefits, reaching a deal with prosecutors that could make him a star witness against the company in a trial this fall.

Allen Weisselberg, a senior adviser to the Trump Organization and the company’s longtime former chief financial officer, pleaded guilty to all 15 charges against him in the case.

In a low and somewhat hoarse voice, Weisselberg admitted to cashing in more than $1.7 million in untaxed extras — including tuition for his grandchildren, free rent for an apartment in Manhattan and luxury car lease payments – and explicitly keeping some of the plums off the books.

Judge Juan Manuel Merchan agreed to sentence the 75-year-old executive to five months in New York’s Rikers Island prison complex, although he could be released much sooner if he behaves behind bars. The judge said Weisselberg will have to pay nearly $2 million in taxes, penalties and interest and complete five years of probation.

The plea bargain also requires Weisselberg to testify honestly as a prosecution witness when the Trump Organization goes on trial in October on related charges. The company is accused of helping Weisselberg and other executives avoid income tax by failing to accurately report their full compensation to the government. Trump himself is not charged in the case.

Weisselberg will remain free on bail until he is formally convicted following the company’s trial. He said nothing as he left court, offering no response when a reporter asked if he had a message for Trump. If Weisselberg fails to meet the terms of the plea, prosecutors said they would seek a ‘significant state prison sentence,’ and Merchan warned he could face the maximum sentence for the highest charge. – grand theft – 15 years old.

Weisselberg’s attorney, Nicholas Gravante Jr., said his client pleaded guilty “to end this case and the legal and personal nightmares it has caused him and his family for years.”

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement that Weisselberg’s plea “directly implicates the Trump Organization in a wide range of criminal activity and compels Weisselberg to provide invaluable testimony in the upcoming trial against the company.” “.

“We look forward to proving our case in court against the Trump Organization,” he added.

Weisselberg’s testimony could weaken the company’s defense. If found guilty, the company could be fined double the amount of unpaid taxes or possibly placed on probation and forced to change its business practices.

The company praised Weisselberg on Thursday as a trusted and honorable employee who it says has been “persecuted and threatened by law enforcement, particularly the Manhattan District Attorney, in their endless and politically motivated to get President Trump”.

In a statement, the company accused prosecutors of trying to pressure Weisselberg to defame Trump and working to build a criminal case out of familiar executive perks such as a company car. .

The company, which was not involved in Weisselberg’s guilty plea on Thursday, said it did nothing wrong, will not plead guilty and looks forward “to having our day in court.”

Weisselberg, considered one of Trump’s most trusted business associates, is the only person to face criminal charges so far in the Manhattan prosecutor’s long investigation into the company. Weisselberg began working for the Trump Organization in 1973, when it was headed by Trump’s father, Fred. Following his arrest in July 2021, the company changed his title from chief financial officer to senior adviser. The position of Chief Financial Officer remains vacant.

Weisselberg agreed to plead guilty days after a hearing in which Merchan denied his request to have the charges dismissed. The judge rejected the defense’s argument that the district attorney’s office was punishing Weisselberg for not offering information that would harm Trump.

The district attorney also investigated whether Trump or his company lied to banks or the government about the value of his properties to get loans or reduce tax bills.

Then-district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who opened the investigation, last year ordered his deputies to present evidence to a grand jury and seek Trump’s indictment, according to the report. former prosecutor Mark Pomerantz, who previously led the investigation. But after Vance left in January, his successor, Bragg, cleared the grand jury to disband without charge. Both prosecutors are Democrats. Bragg said the investigation is continuing.

Prosecutors alleged that the company provided untaxed benefits to senior executives, including Weisselberg, for 15 years. Weisselberg alone was charged with defrauding the federal government, state, and city out of more than $900,000 in unpaid taxes and unearned tax refunds.

Trump, a Republican, called the New York investigations a “political witch hunt” and said his company’s actions were common practice in the real estate industry and not a crime.

Last week, Trump sat for deposition in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ parallel civil investigation into allegations that Trump’s company misled lenders and tax authorities about asset values. . Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination more than 400 times.

James, whose investigation uncovered the evidence that led to Weisselberg’s charges, said in a statement: “Let this guilty plea send a loud and clear message: We will crack down on anyone who steals from the public for personal gain, because no one is above the law.”

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Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.

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Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak. Send confidential tips by visiting https://www.ap.org/tips/.

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