Trump Organization lawyers single out one scapegoat as tax fraud trial wraps up

New York, New York - Lawyers for former US president Donald Trump asked a Manhattan jury on Thursday not to hold his Trump Organization company responsible for financial fraud committed by its veteran money man.

Lawyers representing Donald Trump (r.) in his New York tax fraud trial used their closing arguments to place all the blame on company exec Allen Weisselberg (l.).
Lawyers representing Donald Trump (r.) in his New York tax fraud trial used their closing arguments to place all the blame on company exec Allen Weisselberg (l.).  © Collage: Michael M. Santiago / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP & ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP

In her closing argument, defense lawyer Susan Necheles said the Manhattan district attorney’s criminal tax fraud case against the two Trump Organization entities – Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corporation – was about former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg's false tax returns, for which Trump, his employer, was not responsible.

"We are here today for one reason and one reason only: the greed of Allen Weisselberg," said Necheles. "Along the way, he messed up. He got greedy. Once he got started, it was difficult for him to stop."

The former chief financial officer, who described himself as Trump's "eyes and ears" from a financial standpoint in a 2015 deposition, will soon be sentenced to five months in jail after pleading guilty to the fraud in August.

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His plea deal had him testify for the prosecution in exchange for a shorter prison sentence.

Weisselberg's deputy, company controller Jeff McConney, who handled the paperwork in question, spent days on the stand under immunity, which he received because he testified before the grand jury that signed off on the charges. He claimed he followed the boss’ orders when he broke the law.

Both men admitted to omitting $1.7 million in luxury work expenses from Weisselberg and other executive’s taxable income, reducing the amount they owed in taxes for 15 years. Purchases on the Trump Organization’s dime included rent on a Manhattan apartment, Mercedes-Benz car leases, furniture in Weisselberg's Florida home, and his grandkids' private school tuition.

Will the Trump Organization be held accountable?

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Donald Trump recently announced his campaign effort for the 2024 presidential race, but his growing legal troubles may make it difficult.  © ALON SKUY / AFP

To find the entities guilty, the jury must find Weisselberg was a "high-ranking managerial agent" at the Trump-owned company when he devised and carried out the tax dodging scheme. The panel must also find the chief financial officer was acting in the scope of his employment partially to benefit the company.

A full-time Trump Organization employee for decades, Weisselberg described receiving his yearly bonuses totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars as an independent contractor. That meant the business didn't owe payroll taxes. Weisselberg said he knew the fraud benefited the company.

By subtracting the cost of the lavish expenses from the executives' hefty annual bonuses and salary - an illegal practice known as "backing out" - they paid the company back.

"Over and over again, Allen Weisselberg and Jeff McConney testified that Allen Weisselberg committed these crimes solely to benefit himself," Necheles said. "In other words, no intent to benefit the corporation."

The Trump corporations stand to shell out $1.7 million if convicted, considerably less than how much they owe in attorneys' fees.

Cover photo: Collage: Michael M. Santiago / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP & ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP

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