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A Manhattan jury has found former President Donald Trump’s company guilty of a long-running tax evasion scheme that lasted until his presidency.
Although Trump and his company have been criminally investigated on several occasions, this case marks the first time his company has been indicted, tried and convicted on criminal charges.
Trump built his political brand, in large part, on his assertion that he was an aggressive and successful businessman.
In total, the jury found two Trump-controlled entities guilty of 17 counts of criminal tax evasion and falsifying business records. The maximum fine is $1.6 million.
“This was a case of lying and cheating, false documents for the benefit of tax evasion for the benefit of individuals and the company,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said. addressing reporters after the verdict was delivered.
In a statement, the Trump Organization criticized the verdict and vowed to appeal, arguing that blame should lie with the company’s executives, not the company itself.
“The idea that a company can be held liable for the actions of an employee, for its own benefit, on its own personal tax returns is simply absurd,” the statement said.
A Trump company lawyer also sought to distance the former president from the outcome.
“Each witness repeatedly testified that President Trump and the Trump family knew nothing of the actions of Allen Weisselberg,” Susan Necheles said in a statement.
Prosecutors had already secured a guilty plea last summer from longtime former Trump chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, who became the prosecution’s star witness in the case.
But Weisselberg’s co-defendants, two Trump business entities, remain on trial.
On Halloween, prosecutors presented their first arguments in the lawsuit of the Trump Corporation (which encompasses most of its business empire) and the Trump Payroll Corporation (which processes payments to staff), arguing that the case was about ” greed and cheating”.
The assistant district attorney said in summary that Trump sanctioned tax evasion
Trump Corporation attorney Susan Necheles told jurors in her opening statement that the trial was not a referendum on Trump and asked them to keep an open mind.
Both sides stressed that Trump was not a defendant, but the former president’s name came up frequently.
Some of the most interesting evidence presented to the jury were documents bearing Trump’s signature: a rental agreement for a luxury apartment used by Weisselberg, a tuition check from a private school written for a grandson of Weisselberg. Weisselberg admitted that he did not report these benefits as income, as required by law.
In his summary, Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass pointed a rhetorical finger directly at Trump, saying Trump sanctioned tax evasion. The defense vigorously objected and the objection was upheld by the judge.
During the trial, outside the four walls of the courtroom, Trump said he was running for president and frequently lambasted Manhattan District Attorney Bragg on social media.
Weisselberg had previously pleaded guilty to 15 counts. He admitted to hiding the part of his salary that was paid for through untaxed perks like a luxury apartment, Mercedes-Benz leases for him and his wife, and private school tuition for his grandchildren.
Compensation was never reported to New York State or the IRS.
As part of his plea deal, Weisselberg agreed to testify honestly and serve five months in prison.
During his testimony, which laid out the details of his criminal tax evasion, Weisselberg admitted that he was still receiving a $640,000 salary from the Trump Organization – despite being furloughed – and that he hoped to receive an end-of-year bonus.
The issue in this lawsuit was whether Weisselberg and another top executive, Trump Organization comptroller Jeffrey McConney, acted “on behalf” of corporations when they compensated Weisselberg and other top executives by paying for the apartments. and luxury benefits that have not been reported to the tax authorities.
The trial came at a time of complex legal peril for Trump and his company
In his instructions to the jurors, before they returned a verdict, Judge Juan Merchan said that did not mean Trump’s company benefited from the scheme, although there is evidence that it did. .
Weisselberg admitted knowing that taxes were due on this compensation, but it was never reported.
Prosecutors argued that by compensating senior executives in this manner, the Trump Organization was able to save significant sums of money.
That trial came at a time of complex legal peril for Trump and his company, with his attorneys playing the defense for the past few weeks in three different courtrooms in New York.
Last month, a judge demanded that Trump’s firm submit to an outside monitor in an ongoing $250 million civil case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
James’ lawsuit alleges that Trump and his children fraudulently manipulated the value of his real estate for more than a decade, deceiving lenders and deceiving tax authorities.
James responded to Tuesday’s verdict with a statement. “We can have no tolerance for individuals or organizations who violate our laws to line their pockets,” she said.
“I was proud to assist in this important case. This verdict sends a clear message that no one, or organization, is above our laws.”
Trump and his lawyers pushed back, arguing that New York prosecutors exceeded their authority and engaged in a political witch hunt against the former president.
Trump also faces federal investigations involving his role in efforts to block the peaceful transfer of power after losing the 2020 presidential election and his decision to keep classified documents after leaving the White House.
Last month, the US Department of Justice appointed a special counsel to oversee these investigations. Trump also described this process as politically motivated.