Back in August, as part of his plea deal with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg agreed to testify at trial to the yearslong tax scheme he ran while working as Donald Trump’s right-hand money man. On Tuesday, he did, and, spoiler alert: It didn’t go great for Trump.
Hours before the ex-president and insurrection-inciter announced that he will be running for office for a third time, Weisselberg told a jury that Trump was not only aware of the untaxed benefits at the heart of the government’s criminal case against the Trump Organization, but he was the guy who authorized them. Prosecutors have alleged that the Trump family business participated in a scheme to not only reduce Weisselberg’s taxable income, but the taxes the company owed the IRS, by compensating him with off-the-books fringe benefits. Those benefits included an apartment on the Upper West Side, leases on a pair of Mercedes-Benzes, furniture, private school tuition for his grandchildren, and cash at Christmas so Weisselberg could pass out “personal holiday gratuities,” according to the indictment.
In her opening statement to the jury, assistant district attorney Susan Hoffinger said that Trump had “personally” bankrolled the tuition, which Weissleberg backed up on Tuesday, noting, per Rolling Stone, that while he could authorize small expenses, Trump was the one to sign off on larger ones. Asked if the private school tuition was personally paid for by Trump, Weisselberg answered: “Correct.” Of the apartment he lived in rent-free, Hoffinger asked Weisselberg, “It’s your understanding that was authorized by Mr. Trump?” to which Weisselberg responded, “That was my understanding, yes.”
Then Weisselberg admitted that the perks were not treated as income on his W-2s, and, per Reuters, made it clear how the arrangement benefited both him and the company: Because the rent and associated expenses on the apartment had grown to roughly $200,000 a year, the Trump Organization would have had to pay him roughly two times that, if he were covering the housing costs on his own and paying taxes like honest, law-abiding citizens do. “The Trump Corporation would have had to give me double the amount,” he explained. Later, Hoffinger asked about the role played by Trump Organization controller Jeffrey McConney, who prosecutors have claimed was in on the scheme. “In my mind, I absolutely felt that [McConney] knew [the perks] should have been reported,” Weisselberg said. He also gave Hoffinger a definitive “yes” that the scheme saved the Trump Organization money, which the notoriously cheap Trump would no doubt have been happy about.
The Trump Organization, which was charged with an array of crimes at the same time as Weisselberg last year, has pleaded not guilty. Its attorney, Susan Necheles, has attempted to argue at trial that both the company and Donald Trump had no idea what their long-running executive was up to, which seems dubious for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Trump himself has a documented history, per The New York Times, of engaging in “outright fraud.” Nevertheless, Necheles has insisted that the tax scheme “started with Allen Weisselberg and it ended with Allen Weisselberg.” As part of the plea deal Weisselberg struck in August, he must tell the jury the truth or risk 15 years in prison.
In other not-great revelations for the ex-president, Weisseleberg said on Tuesday that, while he no longer has the title of chief financial officer, he basically still does the same job for the company, goes to the office, and earns the same annual salary of $640,000 year plus a $500,000 bonus. Which strikes us as quite odd given that, in Necheles’s telling, neither the Trump Organization nor Donald Trump had any idea that Weisselberg was breaking the law all these years, and was just as shocked as everyone to learn about the scheme. Seems like something you’d probably fire someone over, or at least stop paying them more than $1 million a year as a result, but, hey, what do we know?
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