Donald Trump’s eponymous real estate company engaged in tax evasion and the former US president knew it was happening, a prosecutor said in closing arguments in the Trump Organization’s criminal trial.
Key Points: Prosecutors say Donald Trump knew the company was committing tax fraud. Trump Organization lawyers say rogue employee was watching over himself.
On his final day of closing arguments, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said Mr Trump had authorized a range of benefits and payments for senior executives, including apartment rent and Christmas bonuses, which cheated the tax authorities by being either not declared or wrongly declared as non-salaried remuneration.
“The whole narrative that Donald Trump was blissfully ignorant is just not real,” Steinglass told the court.
He said Mr Trump was “very active when it came to paying his best people”.
The Trump Organization has pleaded not guilty to charges of committing 15-year tax evasion by covering executives’ personal expenses, cutting salaries to account for expenses and paying employees as if they were independent contractors .
His lawyers said the fraud was the work of a rogue employee, longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, who was watching over himself.
Weisselberg pleaded guilty in August and testified, sometimes conflicted, for the prosecution.
TrumpOrganizations attorney Susan Necheles arrives at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City. (Reuters: David ‘Dee’ Delgado)
“Their own witnesses have repeatedly testified that President Trump knew nothing about the Weisselberg tax scheme,” defense attorney Susan Necheles said in closing argument.
Mr. Trump has not been personally charged.
Lawyers for the company objected when Mr Steinglass showed jurors a memo initialed by Trump, he said, showing the former president “explicitly approved of the tax evasion” that had been suffered.
But Judge Juan Merchanlet, Mr. Steinglass, argues what Mr. Trump knew, saying the defense opened the door by trying to steer Mr. Trump away from the case.
If convicted of tax evasion, falsifying business records and other charges, Mr. Trump’s company faces up to $1.6 million in fines.
The jury is expected to begin its deliberations on Monday.
‘Free cars for you’
Mr. Steinglass said the tax evasion helped Mr. Trump’s company cut wages, shift tax deductions to Trump entities such as his Mar-a-Lago club, cut payroll taxes and make the happy and loyal leaders, in part by reducing their personal tax bills.
He pointed to Weisselberg’s testimony that the company saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by covering his expenses instead of giving him a raise.
Mr. Steinglass said Mr. Trump had approved luxury apartments for Weisselberg and his son, as well as Chief Executive Matthew Calamari and his son.
Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass said Mr Trump was aware of the company’s tax evasion. (Reuters: David ‘Dee’ Delgado)
He said Mr. Trump also authorized car rentals for executives and their wives.
“It’s all part of Trump’s executive compensation package,” Steinglass said.
“Free cars for you, free cars for your wife, free apartments for you, free apartments for your children.”
Weisselberg is on paid leave from the company and will serve five months in prison under his plea deal.
He testified that he had not conspired with anyone in Mr Trump’s family and was embarrassed to betray their trust after nearly five decades in the job.
He also said he still hopes to collect a $500,000 bonus in January.
Mr Trump, a Republican, called the charges politically motivated.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is a Democrat, as is his predecessor Cyrus Vance, who filed the charges last year.
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