NEW YORK — Donald Trump’s company was convicted Tuesday in a Manhattan District Attorney’s case of tax fraud, a clear repudiation of the financial practices in the former president’s business.
A jury found two Trump Organization companies guilty on all 17 counts, including conspiracy charges and falsifying business records.
The verdict came on the second day of trial after a trial accusing the Trump Organization of complicity in a plan by top executives to avoid paying personal income taxes on work perks like rent-free apartments and luxury cars.
The conviction is an endorsement for New York prosecutors who have been investigating the former president and his businesses for three years, although the penalties are unlikely to be severe enough to jeopardize the future of Trump’s company.
As a penalty, the Trump Organization could be fined up to $1.6 million — a relatively small amount for a company of its size, although the conviction could complicate some of its future deals.
Trump, who recently announced he is running for president again, said the case against his company was part of a politically motivated “witch hunt” waged against him by vengeful Democrats.
Trump himself did not stand trial, but prosecutors claimed he “knew exactly what was going on” with the plan, though he and the company’s attorneys have denied it.
The case against the company was largely based on testimonies from former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, who previously pleaded guilty to manipulating the company’s books and his own compensation package to illegally lower his taxes.
Weisselberg testified in exchange for a promised five-month prison sentence.
To convict the Trump Organization, prosecutors had to convince the jury that Weisselberg or his subordinate, Senior Vice President and Controller Jeffrey McConney, were “high-level” agents acting on the company’s behalf and that the company also benefited from his plan .
Attorneys for the Trump Organization repeated the mantra “Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg” throughout the month-long trial. They claimed the executive had gone rogue and betrayed the company’s trust. No one in the Trump family or the company is at fault, they argued.
Despite testifying as a prosecution witness, Weisselberg also attempted to take responsibility on the witness stand, saying no one in the Trump family knew what he was doing.
“It was my personal greed that led to this,” said an emotional Weisselberg.
Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion on $1.7 million in perks, testified that he and McConney conspired to hide that additional compensation from his earnings by deducting their expenses from his pre-tax salary and issued fake W-2 forms.
During his closing arguments, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass attempted to refute claims that Trump was unaware of the plan. He showed jurors a lease Trump had signed for Weisselberg’s company-paid apartment and a memo Trump had initialed authorizing a pay cut for another executive who received perks.
“Mr. Trump specifically sanctions tax fraud,” argued Steinglass.
The ruling does not end Trump’s battle with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat who took office in January.
Bragg said an investigation into Trump, which began under his predecessor, District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., is “active and ongoing.”
In this wide-ranging investigation, investigators have investigated whether Trump misled banks and others about the value of his real estate holdings, golf courses and other assets – allegations at the heart of New York Attorney General Letitia James’ pending lawsuit against the former president His company.
Prosecutors have also investigated whether state laws were violated when Trump’s allies made payments to two women who claimed to have had sexual affairs with the Republican years ago.
Towards the end of his tenure last year, Vance instructed lawmakers to present evidence to a grand jury for a possible indictment of Trump. After taking office, however, Bragg had that grand jury dissolved so that he could reconsider the case.
On Monday he confirmed that a new chief prosecutor had been appointed to handle this investigation and again signaled that he was still active.