(NEW YORK) — Former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg testified Thursday that it was his decision alone to commit tax fraud by paying no taxes on the fringe benefits he received from the Trump Organization.
Weisselberg, who in August pleaded guilty to skirting nearly $2 million in income taxes, is testifying as part of a plea deal with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in the trial of former President Donald Trump’s namesake real estate company on tax fraud charges.
The Trump Organization is accused of paying the rent on Weisselberg’s Manhattan apartment, the leases on cars for himself and his wife, garage expenses, tuition for his grandchildren, furniture for his house in Florida, and other personal expenses — all without the required taxes being paid.
“You were entrusted to account for these things properly,” the company’s defense attorney, Alan Futerfas, asked Weisselberg. “No one gave you permission to commit tax fraud?”
“Correct,” Weisselberg replied.
“And your decision not to pay taxes was solely to benefit Allen Weisselberg?” Futerfas asked.
“Correct,” Weisselberg answered.
“Were you aware, aside from you, of anyone else knowing you failed to report the value of these rental payments on your tax returns?” asked Futerfas.
“No,” replied Weisselberg.
“This decision not to report was yours and solely to benefit you?” Futerfas asked.
“That’s correct,” Weisselberg answered.
Prosecutors believe Weisselberg’s conduct implicates the company because his position as chief financial officer meant he was entrusted to act on the Trump Organization’s behalf.
One day in 2012, Weisselberg testified, Trump was in his office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower with Weisselberg when Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. walked in with checks to sign for Weisselberg’s children’s school tuition.
Weisselberg said that Trump chuckled, turned to Weisselberg, and said, “I may as well pay for your grandkids too.”
Trump began signing three checks per year for each of Weisselberg’s two grandchildren to attend Columbia Grammar School at a total annual cost of about $100,000, Weisselberg said. The jury saw images of some of the checks.
“I said, ‘I’m going to pay you back for this,"” Weisselberg testified.
Weisselberg said he paid back Trump by instructing company controller Jeff McConney to reduce his salary and bonus by the same amount as the tuition payments and his rent, car leases and other personal expenses the Trump Organization was paying. In 2015, that amount was more than $195,395, according to a spreadsheet displayed for the jury.
“I paid back the entity that paid my salary,” said Weisselberg.
“You didn’t tell Mr. Trump you were reducing your compensation, did you?” Futerfas asked.
“I never did,” Weisselberg responded.
By reducing his salary, prosecutor Susan Hoffinger said the company benefited because it was able to save on payroll taxes.
“Did you know the Trump Payroll Corporation was falsifying your W2?” Hoffinger asked.
“I knew my payroll reporting was incorrect, yes,” replied Weisselberg, who conceded that the practice saved the company money.
Weisselberg testified that the company stopped paying personal expenses for him and other executives in 2017 as part of a “cleanup process” when Donald Trump was elected president.
Prosecutors have suggested that the company knew the practice was wrong but allowed it to continue until Trump’s campaign and presidency brought new scrutiny.
“We were going through an entire cleanup process of the company to make sure that since Mr. Trump is now president that everything was being done properly,” Weisselberg said.
Once the Trump Organization stopped paying his rent, his car leases, his grandchildren’s tuition and other personal expenses, Weisselberg said he asked for a $200,000 raise to cover the costs.
Weisselberg said he is still being paid $640,000 a year and is expecting a $500,000 bonus at the end of the year despite pleading guilty to 15 criminal charges and no longer working in the office as chief financial officer, according to his testimony.
“This was about saving you money?” Futerfas asked Weisselberg about the perks he received.
“It was my own personal greed that led to this, yes,” Weisselberg responded.
“Did you conspire with any member of the Trump family?” asked Futerfas.
“No,” replied Weisselberg.
“Do you believe the owners of the company relied on you to do the right thing?” Futerfas asked.
“Yes,” Weisselberg answered.
“Did you honor the trust that was placed in you?” Futerfas asked.
“I did not,” Weisselberg replied. He appeared to get emotional as the cross-examination pressed on.
“Are you embarrassed about what you did?” asked Futerfas.
“More than you can imagine,” Weisselberg replied.
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