Trump Co. tax fraud trial draws to a close amid debate over who is to blame

NEW YORK, Dec 1 (Reuters) – Jurors heard starkly divided opinions on Thursday on whether to convict former President Donald Trump’s real estate firm of tax fraud as prosecutors described the Trump Organization’s A culture of wrongdoing, while the defense accused star witnesses of a greedy government.

In closing arguments for the criminal trial, defense attorney Susan Necheles said Trump was ignorant of and not to blame for the misconduct of Allen Weisselberg, the company’s longtime chief financial officer, who pleaded guilty and testified for the prosecution .

“We’re here today for one reason, and one reason only — Alan Weisselberg’s greed,” Necheles told a 12-person jury in New York state court in Manhattan. “The purpose of Mr. Weisselberg’s crimes was to benefit Mr. Weisselberg.”

U.S. Attorney Joshua Stanglass of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said Weisselberg was a product of Trump’s “culture of fraud and deceit” and not its sole beneficiary of tax fraud.

“He also intended to benefit the accused, even if to a much lesser extent,” Stanglass said. “That’s enough to make these companies criminally liable.”

Stanglass added that Trump, who has not been charged in the case, “knows exactly what happened to his top management.”

The Trump Organization was accused in July 2021 of paying some executives for personal expenses without reporting income and compensating them as if they were independent contractors in a 15-year scheme to defraud tax authorities.

If convicted on all nine counts, the company faces a fine of up to $1.6 million.

Weisselberg is expected to spend five months in prison after pleading guilty to tax fraud and other charges. He is taking paid leave after working for the Trump family for half a century.

Closing arguments are expected to continue on Friday, with jury deliberations starting Monday. Judge Juan Merchan presided over the trial, which began on October 10. twenty four.

To convict the Trump Organization, prosecutors must prove that executives such as Weisselberg acted as “senior management agents” in committing tax fraud with the intent to benefit the company in some way.

Weisselberg testified that he improperly collected bonuses as non-employee compensation and concealed from tax authorities various payments made by the company for his rent, car leases and other personal expenses.

Some of his testimony may help the defense. He told jurors his greed prompted him to cheat on taxes and described the company’s modest payroll tax savings as a “by-product.” At one point, he choked up from the podium describing his embarrassment at the breach of the Trump family’s trust.

Necheles told jurors: “The question here is not whether the company saved some money as a by-product. … His intent was to benefit himself, not the company.”

Donald Bender, an outside accountant for Mazars USA, was released from prosecution and was the lead defense witness. He testified that he trusted Weisselberg to provide him with accurate financial information for the company’s tax returns and was under no obligation to investigate further.

Necheles told jurors that Bender should expose Weisselberg.

“Bender failed,” she said.

Steinglass urged jurors to reject the defense’s “far-fetched argument” that Trump’s company relied on Mazars to uncover wrongdoing.

Mazars severed ties with the Trump Organization in February.

Trump, a Republican, called the charges politically motivated. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who appeared Thursday for closing arguments, is a Democrat, as is his predecessor, Cyrus Vance, who filed charges last year.

The case is separate from a $250 million civil lawsuit by New York Attorney General Letitia James alleging Trump, his three grown children and his company inflated asset values ​​and Trump’s net worth to obtain favorable bank loans and insurance .

Trump also faces a federal investigation over his removal of government documents from the White House after leaving office and efforts to reverse his 2020 election defeat, and Georgia will also investigate an attempt to salvage his election defeat there.

Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Will Dunham, Noeleen Walder and Bill Berkrot

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Luc Cohen

Thomson Reuters

Report on New York federal courts. Worked as a journalist in Venezuela and Argentina.

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