The Trump Organization and Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg have been charged with 15 counts of various financial crimes, including federal tax fraud, falsifying business records, grand larceny, and scheme conspiracy.
In the indictment, which was unsealed Thursday afternoon in a Manhattan court, prosecutors describe a 15-year scheme to provide tax-free benefits to top executives, including Weisselberg, who is alleged to have skirted paying over $1.7 million in taxes. “To put it bluntly, this was a sweeping and audacious illegal payments scheme,” Carey Dunne, general counsel for the Manhattan DA, said in court.
Weisselberg surrendered himself to the Manhattan district attorney’s office Thursday morning. Hours later, he was led into court in handcuffs.
Here we go pic.twitter.com/ZWiVCc8kKy
— Acyn (@Acyn) July 1, 2021
Weisselberg pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his lawyers, Mary Mulligan and Bryan Skarlatos, said in a statement that he intends to “fight these charges in court.” Weisselberg was released after the hearing, but had to turn over his passport, as prosecutors deemed him a “flight risk.”
The Trump Organization, too, pleaded not guilty. “The district attorney is bringing a criminal prosecution involving employee benefits that neither the I.R.S. or any other district attorney would ever think of bringing,” the company said in a statement. “This is not justice; this is politics.”
Regardless of the Trump’s Organization’s objections, the indictment paints a damning picture of how the company carried out a complex scheme to conceal benefits provided to top executives. “The purpose of the scheme was to compensate Weisselberg and other Trump Organization executives in a manner that was ‘off the books’: the beneficiaries of the scheme received substantial portions of their income through indirect and disguised means, with compensation that was unreported,” the indictment read.
2. What a powerful fact in favor of the prosecution. pic.twitter.com/poUScm5iAW
— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) July 1, 2021
Several experts have stressed the severity of the charges since the indictment was unsealed. “I’ve read the Weisselberg indictment. If we take its assertions as true, this is no ticky-tack, or foot fault, or debatable case of tax fraud,” tweeted Daniel Shaviro, a professor of tax law at NYU. “You might as well repeal the federal, state, and city income taxes as discover this sort of conduct and not prosecute it.”
Grand larceny in the second degree, the top charge Weisselberg is facing, carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.
The DA’s office has for months been investigating whether Weisselberg illegally avoided paying taxes on fringe benefits, which allegedly included cars, apartments, and private school tuition for his grandchild. It was reported last week that Trump Organization Chief Operation Officer Matthew Calamari may have received similar illicit benefits from the company, although he has not been charged. Attorneys for both Weisselberg and Calamari refused to comment on the investigation, and the Trump Organization has denied any wrongdoing.
It’s unclear to what extent Trump may be personally exposed. He is no longer shielded from charges like he was while he was president, but proving criminal intent is going to be a tall task for the DA’s office, which is now working in tandem with the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James. Daniel Goldman, the lead Democratic counsel during the 2019 House Impeachment inquiry, tweeted on Tuesday that he does not believe the DA’s office will be able to charge Trump without first convincing Weisselberg to flip on his boss. Goldman reiterated this belief following the release of the indictment. “After reading this indictment, I continue to think Trump will not be charged without Weisselberg’s cooperation, which I don’t expect,” he wrote.
Weisselberg has so far refused to cooperate with investigators, but that could change now that the 73-year-old is facing considerable jail time. “It’s one thing to be loyal to somebody, up until the point where you’re doing jail time for them,” Rebecca Roiphe, a New York Law School professor and former assistant DA in Manhattan, recently told Rolling Stone. “It’s quite another when you’re facing that reality.”
This post has been updated.