Trump Organization found guilty in US tax fraud trial

The Manhattan district attorney accused former US President Donald Trump’s company of a 15-year criminal scheme.

Donald Trump’s real estate firm was convicted Tuesday of carrying out a 15-year criminal scheme to defraud tax authorities, adding to the legal woes the former United States president faces as he campaigns for the office again in 2024 .

The Trump Organization — which operates hotels, golf courses and other real estate around the world — faces fines because of the conviction. The exact amount will be determined at a later date by the judge overseeing the trial in New York State Court.

The company pleaded not guilty. Trump himself was not charged in the case.

The judge set January 13 as the sentence date.

While the fine is not expected to be material for a company the size of the Trump Organization, the jury conviction could complicate its ability to do business by deterring lenders and partners.

The case centered on allegations that the company paid personal expenses such as free rent and car leases to top executives, including former CFO Allen Weisselberg, without reporting earnings, and paid bonuses as if they were independent contractors.

“The arsenal of benefits is designed to keep the top executives happy and loyal,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass told jurors during his closing argument Friday.

The Trump Organization is separately facing a fraud case brought by New York State Attorney General Letitia James.

Trump himself is under investigation by the US Justice Department for his handling of sensitive government documents after he left office in January 2021 and attempts to overturn the November 2020 election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

Weisselberg, 75, testified as a key government witness as part of a plea deal with prosecutors that would prevent him from serving more than five months in jail.

The Trump Organization argued that Weisselberg carried out the plan to benefit himself. He is on paid leave from the company and testified that he received more than $1 million in salary and bonus payments this year.

“The question here is not whether the company saved some money as a by-product,” attorney Susan Necheles said in her closing argument on Thursday. “[Weisselberg’s intent was to benefit himself, not the company.”

Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform on Nov. 19 that his family “reaped no economic benefit from the acts of the executive branch.”

Republican Trump, who announced his third presidential campaign on Nov. 15, called the investigation a politically motivated “witch hunt.” Both Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and his predecessor who filed the suit, Cyrus Vance, are Democrats.

Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty in August to concealing $1.76 million in income from the IRS, testified that Trump himself signed the Christmas bonus checks and personally paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in private school fees for Weisselberg’s grandchildren.

He also said Trump’s two sons — who took over the company’s operations in 2017 after Trump became president — gave him a raise after learning of his tax avoidance scheme.

“The whole story that Donald Trump was blissfully ignorant just isn’t real,” Steinglass said.

The Trump Organization also attempted to argue that Donald Bender, an external accountant, should have caught and blown Weisselberg’s fraud.

The company called Bender as a key witness, but his testimony appeared to backfire as he said he trusted the information Weisselberg gave him was accurate and was under no obligation to investigate further.

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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