NEW YORK The verdict sheet from the criminal tax fraud trial of his company is one ballot that former President Donald Trump would rather not be connected to. Jurors will keep talking about the charges that the Trump Organization helped executives avoid paying personal income taxes on perks like Manhattan apartments and luxury cars for a second day on Tuesday.
After a month of testimony from seven witnesses, including the company’s longtime finance chief Allen Weisselberg and Senior Vice President and Controller Jeffrey McConney, the case was sent to the jury on Monday. Monday, the jury deliberated for about four hours. They only came back to the courtroom once to ask a question about one of the charges.
Here’s what the jury is thinking about and what will happen next in the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation of Trump. In July 2021, prosecutors filed charges against the Trump Organization. They wanted to hold the company responsible for what some of its most loyal and longest-serving executives had done.
Weisselberg was charged in the same indictment, and he later admitted that he didn’t pay taxes on $1.7 million in perks paid for by his company. He said at the company’s trial that he and McConney worked together on the scheme, in part by changing payroll records to take the cost of extras paid for by the company out of his pay.
Weisselberg has worked for the Trump Organization since 1986. He said that the arrangement cut his taxes and saved the company money because they didn’t have to give him a big raise to cover the cost of the perks and the extra taxes he would have had to pay. Other executives were also accused of not paying taxes on perks they got from their companies, but no one else was charged.
Jurors will have to decide if Weisselberg was a “high managerial agent” working for the company when he came up with his plan to avoid paying taxes, as prosecutors claim, or if he was just looking out for himself, as lawyers for the Trump Organization said. They also need to find out if he wanted to help the company’s bottom line as well as his own.
Technically, it’s not the Trump Organization that is being charged, but two of its subsidiaries. They are the Trump Corporation, which is in charge of running Trump’s real estate empire, and the Trump Payroll Corporation, which is in charge of paying employees, giving bonuses, and filling out W2 tax forms.
Among the charges is criminal tax fraud, making up business records, and working with others to do this. There are nine counts against the Trump Corporation. There are eight charges against the Trump Payroll Corporation. Each thing has a defense team of its own. About 40 minutes into the deliberations, the jury sent a note to the judge asking him to go over the details of one of the charges again: conspiracy to defraud in the fourth degree.
Repeating the phrase “Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg,” lawyers for the Trump Organization said that the executive went rogue and broke the company’s trust. They say that if his plan helped the company at all, it was only in a small way and not by design. The defense also said that Donald Bender, a longtime accountant for the company, should have caught the fraud.
Weisselberg said in court that neither Trump nor anyone in his family knew what he was doing. This was a win for the defense. But in his closing argument, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass tried to refute this claim by saying that evidence showed that Trump “knew exactly what was going on.”
Steinglass showed jurors a lease Trump signed for Weisselberg’s company-paid apartment and a memo Trump signed allowing a pay cut for another executive who got perks. He said these showed that Trump “explicitly sanctioned tax fraud.”
Before the jury started making decisions, Judge Juan Manuel Merchan reminded them of their promise not to let their personal feelings about Trump and his politics affect their decisions. The judge told the crowd, “Mr. Trump and his family are not on trial here before you.” “You heard many references to Trump, but they were only allowed so that you could judge the credibility of the witnesses and so that the people and the defendants could make their cases.”
The Trump Organization could be fined up to $1.6 million if they are found guilty. A conviction could make it hard for the company to get loans and make deals, on top of the official punishment.
Both sides only had a few key witnesses and a lot of paper evidence, like spreadsheets, tax forms, and check stubs, to back up their cases. There were a total of seven witnesses, five for the prosecution and two for the defense. Not always did these differences stay.
Weisselberg and McConney were both witnesses for the prosecution, but they sometimes helped the defense. Bender helped Trump and his businesses with their tax returns for many years. He was called by the defense, but sometimes he also helped the prosecution.
The prosecutors started with McConney, who testified for parts of five days. On the second day of the trial, he tested positive for COVID-19, which put the trial back by more than a week. After he was nicer to the lawyers for the defense, prosecutors got permission to treat him as an unfriendly witness.
The next person was Deborah Tarasoff, who was in charge of accounts payable. Then came Weisselberg, who agreed to be the star witness for the prosecution in exchange for a promise of five months in jail.
A forensic accountant from the Manhattan district attorney’s office and an auditor from the state tax agency were also called to testify. The defense only called two witnesses: Bender, whom lawyers for the company tried to discredit and treat as a hostile witness, and a paralegal who came in briefly to confirm tax information that Weisselberg sent to Bender in an email in 2013.
INVESTIGATING IN THE FUTURE
Trump is not on trial, but Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg sent the strongest sign yet that he’s seriously considering whether to charge the former president. For months, Bragg has said that the investigation is “active and ongoing.”
Bragg said that he is putting Matthew Colangelo in charge of sensitive and high-profile white-collar investigations like the Trump probe. Colangelo was in charge of Trump-related investigations at the office of the New York attorney general. The three-year investigation only led to one trial, which is the Trump Organization case. No one has ever brought a criminal charge against a former president.
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