During opening remarks Monday at the Trump Organization a criminal fraud trial Art New Yorkprosecutors painted the company’s former chief financial officer as a key participant in the company’s scheme to supplement his income with tax-free luxury benefits.
However, the company’s lawyers said that the former financial director Allen Weiselberg — who in August pleaded guilty in business – he acted on his own opinions, guided by “individual personal greed”.
They said his actions hurt the Trump Organization, even though he “was the Trump family as a family.”
In 2021, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office indicted Weiselberg and the company through two corporate entities — Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corporation — on more than a dozen charges related to allegations that certain executives were given tax-free “indirect employee compensation.” Weiselberg pleaded guilty to the case in August. The company has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Susan Hoffinger said in her opening statement that Weiselberg’s reported annual salary was $900,000, but with additional tax-free benefits and luxury bonuses, that figure should have been more than $1 million. Hoffinger said the alleged scheme was a “win-win” for both the executives and the company, which allegedly reduced its wage obligations.
Weiselberg and other executives used a variety of techniques to “hide” the benefits from the tax authorities — and took extra precautions after Trump was elected president, Hoffinger said.
“We all know that corporations are not people, they cannot act and think for themselves. Corporations work through people that they authorize to act on their behalf … their high-ranking agents,” Hoffinger said.
A key figure in the alleged effort was the company’s current controller, Jeffrey McConey, Hoffinger said. The company denies that any of its current executives committed fraud or tax evasion.
But Susan Neheles and Michael van der Ven, attorneys for the campaign, said Weisselberg was actually hiding that he didn’t pay taxes on benefits from the Trump Organization and the Trump family.
“He didn’t make any effort to find out if he was benefiting or harming the Trump Corporation because he didn’t care,” Necheles said.
McConey was the first witness called by the government on Monday. He testified under questioning that his personal attorney is being paid by the Trump Organization and that he met with the company’s criminal lawyers on Sunday, among other things.
Assistant District Attorney Joshua Stinglas then asked Judge Juan Merchan to make McCone an adverse witness, saying he “met with the defendant’s attorneys but refused to meet with us.” The judge declined, saying McConey didn’t appear to be dodging the questions.
Weiselberg is expected to be called as a witness during the trial. Weiselberg pleaded guilty in the case in August and agreed to testify as part of his plea deal. He will be sentenced after a trial expected to last up to six weeks.
The company’s efforts to distance itself from its longtime former CFO followed a tense week in which prosecutors and defense attorneys questioned dozens of potential jurors about whether they believed they could separate Trump from the Trump Organization. The ex-president is not personally accused in this case.
The jury was seated “quicker than I expected,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who was in the audience taking notes with a pen and pad as opening statements began Monday. He added that the judge is “experienced and manages the courtroom efficiently.”
“Anything can happen during a trial,” Bragg said.
Trump called the allegations a “witch hunt” and accused Bragg and his predecessor who launched the investigation, Cyrus Vance, of acting out of political enmity.