August 19, 2022
Allen Weisselberg—the CFO of the Trump Organization and for decades one of Donald Trump’s most trusted executives—reached a deal to plead guilty on Thursday, August 18, and admit to participating in a long-running tax scheme at the former president’s family business, reports The New York Times
Weisselberg will have to admit to all 15 felonies that prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney’s office accused him of, according to people with knowledge of the matter. And if he is called as a witness at the company’s trial in October, he will have to testify about his role in the scheme to avoid paying taxes on lavish corporate perks, the people said.
But Weisselberg will not implicate Trump or his family if he takes the stand in that trial, the people said, and he has refused to cooperate with prosecutors in their broader investigation into Trump, who has not been accused of wrongdoing.
Even so, his potential testimony will put the Trump Organization at a disadvantage and is likely to make Weisselberg a central witness at the October trial, during which the company will face many of the same charges.
On cross-examination, the Trump Organization’s lawyers could accuse Weisselberg of pleading guilty only to spare himself a harsher sentence: Under the terms of the plea deal, . Weisselberg, who was facing up to 15 years in prison, will spend as little as 100 days behind bars. They might also argue that it would be unfair to hold the Trump Organization accountable for a crime that was not committed by the Trump family, who control the company.
But Weisselberg’s testimony—an acknowledgment from one of the Trump Organization’s top executives that he committed the crimes listed in the indictment—would undercut any effort by the company’s lawyers to contend that no crime was committed.
The indictment placed Weisselberg at the center of a conspiracy that prosecutors said allowed him to avoid paying taxes on leased Mercedes-Benzes, an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and private school tuition for his grandchildren.
Prosecutors have said other employees benefited from a similar arrangement, but no one else has been charged with a crime. Weisselberg’s testimony could help prosecutors prove their broader claims.
The prosecutors also essentially accused him of conspiring with the Trump Organization, which he will have to acknowledge at his plea hearing on Thursday and at the trial, if he is called as a witness.
Earlier in August, Trump’s refusal to answer questions about the tax scheme came on the heels of the FBI’s search of his Florida home as part of an unrelated criminal investigation. He also faces scrutiny in Washington, D.C., and in Georgia for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
In Manhattan, the investigation has long presented a significant threat to Trump. For years, District Attorney Cy Vance’s prosecutors sought his tax returns—a battle that reached the Supreme Court twice. Before the court ruled in the district attorney’s favor, Bloomberg News reported on some of the perks that Weisselberg had received; leading prosecutors to more closely scrutinize the chief financial officer’s conduct.
In the indictment, prosecutors said that Weisselberg avoided reporting his perks to tax authorities, and that they were not reflected in the Trump Organization’s general ledger, even though they were tracked on spreadsheets within the company.
Even after his indictment, Weisselberg refused to cooperate against Trump as the office continued its investigation into the former president. Before leaving office at the end of the year, Vance directed prosecutors to begin presenting evidence about the former president to a grand jury.
District Attorney Alvin Bragg was sworn in on January 1 and, after weeks of meetings about the case, he developed concerns about proving that Trump had intended to commit a crime. The grand jury stopped hearing evidence and, in February, the two prosecutors leading the investigation resigned, leaving the investigation’s future uncertain.
Bragg has defended the inquiry and said that it has continued. But Weisselberg has refused to cooperate with the broader investigation, and that decision made a plea deal in his own case elusive, the people said.
Even without his cooperation against the Trump family, the negotiations gained steam in recent weeks, culminating in a meeting on Monday, August 15, among Weisselberg’s lawyers, prosecutors, and the State Supreme Court judge presiding over the case.
The judge won’t sentence Weisselberg until after the Trump Organization’s trial, providing prosecutors some leverage over him until the time that he may testify. If the judge finds that. Weisselberg did not live up to the terms of the plea agreement, he can impose a stiffer sentence than the expected five months.
It is unclear where Weisselberg would serve his time, but defendants who receive sentences of less than a year are generally sent to one of the jails on Rikers Island. If Weisselberg were to be sent there, he would be likely to be held in protective custody. His lawyers could also ask that he be placed in a medical ward, or could seek home confinement.
Research contact: @nytimes