Trump organisation found guilty of tax fraud by New York jury

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By Associated Press: Donald Trump’s company pleaded guilty Tuesday to tax fraud for helping executives evade taxes on lavish perks like Manhattan apartments and luxury cars, in a notable repudiation of financial practices at the former president’s businesses.

A jury convicted two corporate entities of the Trump Organization on 17 counts, including conspiracy charges and falsifying business records. Trump himself was not on trial. The verdict came on the second day of the hearing.

The conviction is a vindication for New York prosecutors, who have spent three years investigating the former president and his businesses.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said the ruling “underscores that there is a standard of justice for all of us in Manhattan.”

As punishment, the Trump Organization could be fined up to $1.6 million — a relatively small amount for a company of its size, though a conviction could complicate some of its future deals.

Trump, who recently announced he was running for president again, said the lawsuit against his company was part of a politically motivated “witch hunt.” Speaking outside court, Trump Organization lawyer Alan Futterfuss vowed to appeal.

The ruling adds to already mounting legal problems for Trump, who faces a criminal investigation in Washington over the storage of top secret documents at his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, as well as efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Also Read | Donald Trump, his children have been sued for fraud, tax evasion

These investigations are being led by a newly named Justice Department special counsel. Fulton County, Georgia’s district attorney is also leading an investigation into Trump and his allies’ efforts to overturn his loss in that state.

Although Trump himself was not indicted, the verdict marked another blow for the former president, who has faced a series of self-inflicted crises since launching his third campaign for the White House last month.

These include outrage over his dinner with the Holocaust-denying white nationalist and antisemitic rapper formerly known as Kanye West, and an authoritarian call for Trump to repeal “all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.” Baseless claims of rigging in his mass elections.

The Manhattan district attorney’s case against the Trump Organization was largely built around the testimony of Allen Weiselberg, the company’s former finance chief, who previously pleaded guilty to manipulating the company’s books and his own compensation package to lower his taxes.

Weiselberg testified in exchange for a promised five-month prison sentence.

To convict the Trump Organization, prosecutors had to convince jurors that Weiselberg or his subordinate, Senior Vice President and Controller Jeffrey McConey, were “upper management” agents acting on behalf of the company and that the company also benefited from his scheme.

Lawyers for the Trump Organization repeated the mantra “Wesselberg did it for Wesselberg” during the month-long trial. They claim that the executive went rogue and betrayed the company’s trust. Neither the Trump family nor the organization was to blame, they argued.

Company lawyer Susan Necheles repeated that argument after Tuesday’s ruling.

Also Read | Trump’s ex-lawyer under investigation for tax fraud: report

“Why should a corporation whose owners knew nothing about Weiselberg’s personal tax returns be criminally prosecuted for Allen Weiselberg’s personal conduct, for which they had no visibility or oversight? This case was unprecedented and legally wrong,” he said.

Although he testified as a prosecution witness, Weiselberg also tried to take the witness stand, saying no one in the Trump family knew what he was doing.

“It was my own personal greed that led to it,” testified an emotional Weiselberg.

Prosecutors in Manhattan alleged that the former president “knew exactly what was going on” with the scheme, although he and the company’s lawyers denied that.

Weiselberg, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion on $1.7 million in fringe benefits, testified that he and McConney conspired to hide overcompensation from his income by deducting their expenses from his pre-tax pay and issuing false W-2 forms.

During his closing argument, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass tried to refute the claim that Trump knew nothing about the scheme. He showed jurors a lease signed by Trump for Weiselberg’s company-paid apartment and a memo Trump initiated authorizing a pay cut for another executive who received the benefits.

“Mr. Trump is clearly condoning tax fraud,” Steinglass argued.

The ruling does not end Trump’s battle with Bragg, a Democrat who took office in January.

The DA said a related investigation into the former president that began under his predecessor, District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., is “active and ongoing.”

Also Read | Biden, Trump make final pitch to US voters ahead of midterm elections

In that wide-ranging investigation, investigators examined whether Trump misled banks and others about the value of his real estate holdings, golf courses and other assets — allegations at the center of New York Attorney General Leticia James’ pending lawsuit against the former president and his companies.

The district attorney’s office also investigated whether any state laws were broken when Trump allies paid off two women the Republican claimed had sex years ago.

At the end of his term last year, Vance ordered deputies to present evidence to a grand jury for possible indictments against Trump. After taking office, however, Bragg dissolved that grand jury so he could take a fresh look at the case.

On Monday, he confirmed that a new chief prosecutor had been brought in to lead the investigation, again indicating that it was still active.

Also Read | ‘Massive fraud…’: Donald Trump calls for repeal of US Constitution

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