Prosecutors in New York have made their first criminal indictments against the Trump Organisation, charging the company and its chief financial officer with multiple fraud and tax offences.
Allen Weisselberg, who has worked for former president Donald Trump’s company for 48 years, surrendered to a Manhattan district attorney’s office on Thursday morning.
He later appeared in the State Supreme Court in Manhattan in handcuffs as the charges against him were unveiled. Mr Weisselberg, who pleaded not guilty, surrendered his passport as part of the terms of his release.
In addition, the Trump Organization itself was charged as part of the long-running investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney. The next court hearing is scheduled for September 20th.
Prosecutors accuse Mr Trump’s company and its most senior financial employee of a 15-year scheme to defraud the government.
In total, 15 criminal charges were filed against Mr Weisselberg, with many of them also levelled at the organisation. Among the counts were conspiracy, grand larceny and criminal tax fraud.
In particular, investigators have honed in on fringe benefits Mr Weisselberg received from the company, which they allege were not declared to the Inland Revenue Service totalling $1.7 million (€1.4 million) and dating back to 2005. They include tuition fees for Mr Weisselberg’s family members and a free apartment. He was also accused of falsifying documents.
“Beginning from at least 2005 to on or about June 30, 2021 the defendants and others operated a scheme to defraud federal, New York State, and New York City tax authorities. The purpose of the scheme was to compensate Weisselberg and other Trump Organization executives in a manner that was ‘off the books’,” the indictment states.
‘Illegal payment scheme’
Carey Dunne, a prosecutor with the District Attorney’s Office, dismissed claims by the defence during the court hearing that the investigation was politically motivated.
“It’s not about politics… To put it bluntly, this was a sweeping and audacious illegal payment scheme.”
The 25-page indictment also states that similar undeclared compensation arrangements were made with other Trump executives, raising the possibility of other indictments.
Speaking to CNN after the proceedings, former Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen, who served time in prison over illegal payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels on behalf of his former boss, said that he believed further individuals in the company will also face charges, including possibly Mr Trump’s children.
In a statement, New York attorney general Letitia James, who recently joined with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance in the investigation, said that “today is an important marker in the ongoing criminal investigation of the Trump Organization and its CFO, Allen Weisselberg.”
“This investigation will continue, and we will follow the facts and the law wherever they may lead.”
But Mr Trump branded the indictment as politically motivated. “The political Witch Hunt by the Radical Left Democrats, with New York now taking over the assignment, continues,” he said in a statement. “It is dividing our Country like never before!”
Speaking after the hearing, lawyers for the Trump Organization criticised the investigation as “politically driven,” arguing that it was setting an “improper precedent.”
“These kind of cases are typically resolved in the civil context,” said attorney Alan Futerfas. He also contrasted the treatment of Mr Trump by prosecutors with their approach to big financial institutions during the financial crisis.
The Trump Organization, in a statement, lauded Weisselberg as “a loving and devoted husband, father and grandfather, who has worked at the Trump Organization for 48 years.”
“He is now being used by the Manhattan District Attorney as a pawn in a scorched-earth attempt to harm the former president. The District Attorney is bringing a criminal prosecution involving employee benefits that neither the IRS nor any other District Attorney would ever think of bringing,” the statement said. “This is not justice; this is politics.”