Trump organization tax fraud trial begins with big money-hiding bombshells

New York, New York – Former US president Donald Trump’s namesake real estate business criminally operated with two sets of books, prosecutors told a Manhattan Supreme Court jury Monday during opening arguments of the org's long-awaited trial.

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger (l.) leaving the courtroom for a lunch recess on Monday during opening statements of the trial at the New York Supreme Court for Donald Trump's the Trump Organization. The organization is charged with criminal tax fraud, falsifying business records, and filing false tax returns.
Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger (l.) leaving the courtroom for a lunch recess on Monday during opening statements of the trial at the New York Supreme Court for Donald Trump's the Trump Organization. The organization is charged with criminal tax fraud, falsifying business records, and filing false tax returns.  © Collage: MICHAEL M. SANTIAGO / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP & GIORGIO VIERA / AFP

"This case is about greed and cheating on taxes," Assistant District Attorney Susan Hoffinger told jurors.

"These two defendants, the Trump Organization and Trump Payroll Corporation, paid their already highly-paid executives even more by helping them cheat on taxes from about 2005 to 2018."

One of those executives, Allen Weisselberg, who headed the company’s finances for almost half a century, pleaded guilty to the scheme when he copped to 15 felonies in September. As part of his plea deal, he must testify at the trial as the prosecution’s star witness in exchange for a reduced sentence of five months on Rikers Island.

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Hoffinger described Weisselberg as a prime beneficiary of the tax fraud scheme and rattled off a list of tax-free benefits he enjoyed on the Trump Org dime: rent for a luxury Manhattan apartment for his son’s young family, utility bills, parking garage fees, a Mercedes for him and his wife, apartment furnishings in New York City and Florida, and cash payments.

"On top of all that, Donald Trump paid for Allen Weisselberg’s grandchildren’s school tuition," said Hoffinger, who is heading the Manhattan district attorney’s criminal case against Trump’s companies and its broader investigation.

Central to the case, said Hoffinger, was how the company paid Weisselberg off the books to save itself money.

"The evidence will show that doing it legally would have cost the Trump Organization more," she said. "If the company gives him a $100,000 raise, he only keeps about half of that after taxes."

Weisselberg was making close to $1 million a year by 2008 between salary and bonuses, Hoffinger said. He and the company saved "hundreds of thousands" in taxes to New York City and state by only reporting his base salary. In addition, the prosecutor said, the bogus numbers on his W2 tax form meant he got refunds to which he wasn’t entitled.

The scheme was conducted, directed, and authorized at the highest levels of the accounting department, Hoffinger said, "working together out of the offices at Trump Tower on Fifth Ave."

"Together, they directed how the companies would hide the compensation," she said.

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Trump Organization Attorney Susan Necheles at the Trump Organization trial on Monday, where she claimed there was no evidence the company had cheated on corporate taxes.
Trump Organization Attorney Susan Necheles at the Trump Organization trial on Monday, where she claimed there was no evidence the company had cheated on corporate taxes.  © MICHAEL M. SANTIAGO / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

Hoffinger continued to reveal that Weisselberg directed company controller Jeffrey McConney to reduce his salary by the price of his expenses when he thought he was getting too much.

Hoffinger said Vice President Matthew Calamari also enjoyed a company owned-apartment on Park Ave and a tax-free Mercedes. Weisselberg’s son, Barry Weisselberg, got a rent-free apartment overlooking Central Park, where he managed Trump’s cash-only ice rink.

In the defense’s opening, Trump Org lawyer Susan Necheles said Weisslberg was a lone agent who cheated on his taxes unbeknownst to his employer to benefit himself, "his buddy, and his son."

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"Mr. Weisselberg instructed his longtime direct subordinate, Jeff McConney, not to report all of the income, and Jeff McConney did what Allen Weisselberg told him to do," said Necheles.

Necheles said there was no evidence the Trump entities cheated on corporate taxes. She said Weisslberg was throwing them under the bus, as the justice system had railroaded him.

"The evidence will [show] that when Mr. Weisselberg was arrested and charged with a crime, that the prosecution had him paraded in front of cameras in handcuffs," she said, prompting the judge to sustain an objection.

"Mr. Weisselberg realized he was facing not just public humiliation but a potential jail sentence that will be years long. This was a man who had a beautiful life. He was the chief financial officer of a prestigious company. At his peak, he made over a million a year."

The two corporate entities, which comprise a fraction of 500 under the Trump Organization umbrella, face significant financial penalties if convicted.

Describing the criminal case as "two trials in one," Judge Merchan told jurors they’d be required to deliver two separate verdicts, one for the Trump Organization and another for Trump Payroll Corporation.

The Trump entities have pleaded not guilty.

Cover photo: Collage: MICHAEL M. SANTIAGO / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP & GIORGIO VIERA / AFP

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