The jury in the Trump Organization‘s tax fraud trial is slated to begin deliberations Monday after nearly a month of testimony and arguments about executive pay practices at former President Donald Trump‘s real estate company that prosecutors allege culminated into a multi-year criminal scheme.
Trump’s company was charged in 2021 with paying personal expenses for some executives without reporting the income, while compensating them as if they were independently contracted. In August, the company’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, pleaded guilty to 15 counts of fraud and tax evasion and testified for the prosecution.
The former president, who launched his third bid for the presidency last month, was not charged in the case. However, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said in his closing argument Friday that Trump was aware of the scheme. His point was made to counter the defense’s position that Weisselberg sought only to help himself and hid his misdeeds from Trump’s family.
“He is not on trial here, but that does not mean that you should believe the defense’s narrative that Allen Weisselberg … went rogue,” Steinglass added in statements to the jury.
The former Republican president has alleged the charges against his company are politically motivated. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is a Democrat, as is the official who brought the charges last year, Cyrus Vance.
The defense has argued that prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney’s office failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Weisselberg, 75, engaged in the scheme on behalf of the company.
“We are here today because of one reason and one reason only, because of the greed of Allen Weisselberg,” defense lawyer Susan Necheles said Thursday. Necheles noted that Weisselberg “wanted a deal with the government because he knew he did something wrong and was afraid of a long prison sentence.”
The company’s former CFO gained $1.76 million in “indirect employee compensation” through the scheme, including an apartment rental he didn’t have to pay for, luxury vehicles, and private school tuition for his grandchildren, prosecutors said, adding that other executives received similar benefits.
“Donald Trump is explicitly sanctioning tax fraud. That’s what this document shows,” Assistant District Attorney Steinglass told Friday. “This whole narrative that Donald Trump is blissfully ignorant is just not real.”
Trump has decried the investigation as a complete “witch hunt,” though a jury will ultimately be tasked to decide whether the allegations of New York prosecutors hold any merit.
To convict the organization of criminal tax fraud successfully, prosecutors must prove these actions benefited the company in some way and that the managers who benefited from such actions were acting “in behalf of” the company. The latter portion of that argument could be difficult, as New York Judge Juan Merchan acknowledged earlier this year that state law does not explicitly define what acting “in behalf of” means in the context of such a case.
Trump’s company could face fines of up to $1.6 million if it is convicted on all counts.
The criminal trial is separate from another tax fraud investigation being conducted by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who has accused the Trump Organization of violating several state laws by manipulating its asset valuations. James filed that lawsuit in civil court in September, although it could take months to go through New York’s legal system before it reaches trial.