Politico

Top Trump executive pleads guilty to fraud in New York


NEW YORK — A former top executive at the Trump Organization directly implicated the company Thursday as he pleaded guilty in New York Supreme Court to a yearslong tax fraud scheme.

Allen Weisselberg, who was Chief Financial Officer at former President Donald Trump’s company, entered the guilty plea in a criminal case brought by the Manhattan district attorney.

Weisselberg confessed a 15-year scheme to avoid paying taxes on lavish perks received from the company. Last year, he was indicted on 15 felony counts, including grand larceny, criminal tax fraud, scheme to defraud and falsifying business records.

The Trump Organization itself was also charged in the case. The company did not plead guilty and will continue to face prosecution.

Weisselberg agreed to testify when the case goes to trial. But his plea deal did not include an agreement to cooperate in broader ongoing investigations against Trump.

“This plea agreement directly implicates the Trump Organization in a wide range of criminal activity and requires Weisselberg to provide invaluable testimony in the upcoming trial against the corporation,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement issued as Weisselberg was entering his plea. “We look forward to proving our case in court against the Trump Organization.”

Weisselberg admitted he conspired with other executives at the company to dodge taxes through off-the-books payments. He concealed some $1.7 million in compensation — including a Manhattan apartment, leases for two Mercedes-Benz, and private school tuition for his grandchildren.

Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan read off each of the allegations against him and asked if it was true that he committed the crimes. Weisselberg replied that he did — implicating the Trump Organization and its officials in his crimes.

The court delayed sentencing until after the trial to ensure that Weisselberg complies with the terms of the deal by providing truthful testimony. If he does, he will be sentenced to five months in jail on New York’s notorious Riker’s Island and five years probation. If he violates the deal by failing to testify truthfully at the trial, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Weisselberg also agreed to pay nearly $2 million in taxes, including interest and penalties. He waived his right to an appeal.

“In one of the most difficult decisions of his life, Mr. Weisselberg decided to enter a plea of guilty today to put an end to this case and the yearslong legal and personal nightmares it has caused for him and his family,” his attorney Nicholas Gravante Jr. said in a statement. “Rather than risk the possibility of 15 years in prison, he has agreed to serve 100 days. We are glad to have this behind him.”

Weisselberg did not comment as he left the lower Manhattan courthouse with his wife.

The plea comes after Merchan rejected Weisselberg’s bid last week to dismiss the case.

Weisselberg and the Trump Organization had asked him to toss the case, arguing prosecutors improperly “targeted Donald Trump’s associates and companies for investigation and prosecution based on their animus toward his speech and political views.” But Merchan declined, dismissing only one fraud count against the Trump Organization.

The plea comes as Trump faces multiple, escalating legal threats.

The former president exerted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and, for hours, refused to answer questions in a deposition before state Attorney General Tish James, who is investigating whether the Trump Organization had misstated the value of assets on financial statements.

“There is zero tolerance for individuals who defraud our state and cheat our communities. For years, Mr. Weisselberg broke the law to line his own pockets and fund a lavish lifestyle. Today, that misconduct ends,” said James, who was involved in the Manhattan DA’s case, in a statement Thursday. “Let this guilty plea send a loud and clear message: we will crack down on anyone who steals from the public for personal gain because no one is above the law.”

Last week, federal agents searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, part of an investigation into Trump’s potential removal or destruction of records, possible obstruction of justice and potential violations of the Espionage Act. The FBI removed classified documents from the former president’s estate.

The Manhattan DA’s investigation into Trump and his company’s business practices remains open, though it stalled early this year when new Bragg declined to bring criminal charges against Trump himself.

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