Jury selection begins Monday in the Trump Organization’s criminal tax fraud and grand larceny trial in New York, a symbolic moment following years of investigations that places former President Donald Trump’s business before a jury.
Trump is not a defendant in the case and is not expected to be implicated in any wrongdoing, but the charges against the real estate business he built from the ground up are the closest any prosecutor has gotten to Trump, and the political ramifications of the case has irritated the former President, people familiar with the matter say.
A possible plea deal was discussed several weeks ago between Trump Organization lawyers and the Manhattan district attorney’s office, but they went nowhere, people familiar with the matter said.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg wanted the Trump Organization entities to plead guilty to felony counts; lawyers for Trump had suggested a plea to a misdemeanor, the people said. Trump rebuffed taking any plea, they said, in part because of the potential political impact it could have of admitting any guilt.
Two Trump Organization entities are charged with nine counts of tax fraud, grand larceny and falsifying business records in what prosecutors allege was a 15-year scheme to defraud tax authorities by failing to report and pay taxes on compensation provided to employees.
If convicted, the Trump Organization would face maximum fines of $1.6 million – the most allowed under New York state law for the charged conduct. The company would not be dissolved or face any other consequences. The Trump Organization has pleaded not guilty and has said the prosecution is politically motivated.
New York’s star witness is the Trump Organization’s long-time Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, who is on paid leave from the company where he has worked for nearly 50 years.
Weisselberg pleaded guilty in August for failing to pay taxes on $1.7 million in off-the-books compensation he received in the form of a company-funded apartment in New York City, the lease on two Mercedes Benz, private school tuition for two of his grandchildren, and personal expenses including new beds and flat-screen televisions. As CFO, Weisselberg was the top executive handling the books of the company.
Over the past several weeks Weisselberg has met with Manhattan prosecutors and lawyers for the Trump Organization to prepare for his testimony. He is not expected to implicate Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump or Eric Trump when he testifies.
Under his plea deal, Weisselberg agreed to testify truthfully at the trial, but he is not in a cooperation deal with the prosecution, which continues to investigate the Trump Organization’s finances. (CNN)