Trump Organization CFO Weisselberg chokes on witness stand, claims ‘personal greed’ led to $1.7m tax avoidance scheme
NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s longtime finance chief choked on the witness stand Thursday, saying he betrayed the Trump family’s trust by plotting to dodge taxes on 1.7 million dollars in company-paid benefits, including a Manhattan apartment and luxury cars.
Allen Weisselberg, senior adviser and former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, the ex-president’s family business, said he conspired with a subordinate to hide more than a decade of extras from his taxable income, but that neither Trump nor the family were involved.
From the archives (August 2022): Trump company CFO Allen Weisselberg pleads guilty in tax scheme case – but does not implicate former President Trump
See also (February 2022): Trump Organization accounting firm disavows years of financial statements
The The Trump Organization is now on trialaccused of helping Weisselberg and other executives avoid paying payroll taxes on top of their salaries.
Prosecutors argue the company is liable because Weisselberg was a “senior executive officer” assigned to act on its behalf.
“It was my personal greed that led to this,” said Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty to tax offenses and agreed to testify against the company in exchange for a five-month prison sentence.
When asked if he was embarrassed by what he had done, a somber Weisselberg replied, “More than you can imagine.”
His moving testimony came on Day 2 as the prosecution’s star witness, as a company attorney reminded him in cross-examination of the trust the Trump family had placed in him for decades.
Weisselberg began working for Trump’s father in 1973 and joined Trump as an executive of the Trump Organization in 1986. He wielded immense power as the company, buoyed by Trump’s stardom, grew from a modest New York City developer to a global golf, hotel and real estate empire.
Weisselberg also recalled helping Trump through dark corporate times in the early 1990s, including casino bankruptcies and the failure of his Trump Shuttle airline. He recalled watching Trump’s three eldest children – Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric – grow up before his eyes, admitting he was “among the most reliable people they knew”.
The Trump Organization denies any wrongdoing. The company could be fined more than $1 million if convicted, but a guilty verdict could also hamper its ability to secure loans and secure deals and lead to attempts by governments, like New York, to cancel contracts with Trump entities.
The Trump Organization continues to employ Weisselberg, paying his usual salary of $640,000 even after he was furloughed last month. In court, however, company attorneys portrayed him as a loyal lieutenant who went rogue and concocted the tax evasion scheme on his own without the knowledge of Trump or the Trump family.
Some of Weisselberg’s testimonies seem to underscore this point. But the 75-year-old executive refuted the defense’s claim that his scheme also did not help the company’s bottom line. He also detailed another financial arrangement, involving holiday bonuses, which had saved the company money for years.
Weisselberg testified that he conspired to hide his benefits with senior vice president and company comptroller Jeffrey McConney by tampering with payroll records to deduct their cost from his salary. The arrangement reduced Weisselberg’s tax liability, while saving the company money because he didn’t have to give it a big raise to cover the cost of benefits and additional taxes he was incurring. would have incurred.
“I didn’t do an analysis, but I knew there was a benefit to the business,” Weisselberg said. “I knew in my mind that there was a benefit to the business.”
The company’s chief operating officer, Matthew Calamari Sr., also reduced his salary to deduct the cost of an apartment and cars paid for by the company for him and his wife, but Weisselberg denied that they were of wick. He said he had no knowledge or involvement in what Calamari was doing.
Calamari has not been charged with a crime. McConney, who was granted immunity, testified during the first five days of the trial in state court in Manhattan.
Weisselberg told jurors that Trump signed the lease on his apartment and, until he became president in 2017, personally paid the tuition fees for his two grandchildren.
The company, however, had a long-standing practice of dodging taxes on the lucrative Christmas bonuses that Trump handed out to his company executives each year.
Weisselberg said the company dodged taxes for decades by drawing bonus checks signed by Trump from subsidiary entities and paying executives as independent contractors, allowing the company to avoid payroll taxes and subsidiaries to deduct the bonuses as an expense.
Weisselberg said the practice began before he started at the Trump Organization and was only dropped after a tax attorney audited the company’s compensation practices once Trump became president. in 2017.
Extract from the archives (July 2021): The Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Weisselberg, goes to the Lower Manhattan courthouse early Thursday
Trump “always wanted to sign the bonus checks,” Weisselberg said — applying his distinct, seismograph-like signature to a stack of 70 or more made to key company officials including Weisselberg and Calamari.
The checks would then be inserted into Christmas cards, also signed by Trump, who handed them out like Santa Claus to executives around the building.
The Trump Organization switched to paying executive bonuses entirely as employee taxable income once Trump went to the White House.
“We were going through a whole cleaning process in the company. With Mr. Trump now president, we wanted to make sure everything was done right,” Weisselberg said.