Donald J. Trump approved a key aspect of a tax evasion scheme orchestrated by several senior executives of his family business, prosecutors said Friday in their closing arguments at the company’s trial, a bombshell complaint as the jury winds up preparing to deliberate next week.
Prosecutors have not charged Mr. Trump with participating in the scheme, through which, they say, the executives were compensated in the form of unofficial benefits so they could evade taxes. But on Friday, Joshua Steinglass, a prosecutor, told the jury that Mr. Trump had approved part of the scheme and that a document proved it.
Mr. Trump explicitly penalizes tax evasion, Mr. Steinglass said, referring to a document signed by the former president that showed an executive asking for his salary to be cut. This document shows that, Mr Steinglass added, arguing that the lower salary was in line with benefits the executive, Matthew Calamari, had received.
Although prosecutors have shown that Mr. Trump was aware of some of the benefits enjoyed by his leaders, his knowledge of the extent of the scheme is murky. Defense attorneys strongly objected to Mr. Steinglass’ statement, and the judge, Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, upheld their objection.
Yet the jurors heard what Mr. Steinglass said.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which is leading a broader criminal investigation into the former president, has accused his company, the Trump Organization, of handing out the benefits, which included luxury cars and apartment rentals. , to several leaders, mainly Allen H. Weisselberg. , the company’s longtime chief financial officer. Mr. Weisselberg pleaded guilty this summer and testified at trial.
Once Mr. Steinglass finished his closing statement, attention turned to Mr. Trump. A defense lawyer, Michael van der Veen, requested a mistrial due to Mr Steinglass’ comment.
It’s a bias he put on the jury that can’t be undone, and it’s not trivial that he did it, Mr van der Veen said.
Understanding the Cases Against Allen Weisselberg and the Trump Organization
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Who is Allen H. Weisselberg? Mr. Weisselberg was the longtime chief financial officer of the Trump Organizations and for decades one of former President Donald J. Trump’s most trusted executives. He entered Trump’s orbit as a junior accountant for Mr Trump’s father and rose through the ranks in the decades that followed.
What is he accused of? Mr Weisselberg and the Trump Organization have both been accused of participating in a 15-year tax avoidance scheme from 2005 to help executives avoid taxes by rewarding them with perks and bonuses that don’t have not been counted. The charges were the result of an ongoing investigation into Mr. Trump and his company by the Manhattan District Attorney.
Has Mr. Trump also been charged? No. Although the former president is linked to the Trump Organization, the indictment, which was made public last summer, does not accuse him of wrongdoing. No employee other than Mr. Weisselberg has been charged.
What does this mean for the Trump Organization? Mr. Weisselberg is not expected to implicate Mr. Trump or his family in his October stance. But his admission of guilt will undermine any effort by the company’s lawyers to assert that no crime has been committed. If found guilty, Mr Trump’s company could face hefty fines or other penalties as well as fallout from its business partners.
Judge Merchan dismissed the application. I do not believe it is necessary to declare a mistrial, he said.
The former president is not on trial and the prosecution does not need to prove his involvement or knowledge of the alleged fraud. What he must prove is that Mr. Weisselberg acted on behalf of the company, which means that he did not act solely in his own interest and that his actions brought some benefit to the company. .
Those three words in the name of were the subject of continued debate throughout the trial, and the attorneys argued over the phrase again on Friday. Judge Merchan said he plans to define the sentence for the jury when he provides them with instructions on Monday when they begin to deliberate.
The definition he provided on Friday, however, may not offer much clarity.
It is not necessary that the criminal acts actually benefit the company, but the acts of an agent are not in the name of a company if they are undertaken solely to advance the interests of the agent, a- he declared. In other words: if the acts of the agents were carried out only for personal purposes, they were not committed in the name of the company.
On Tuesday, in the absence of the jury, he was more explicit, saying prosecutors had to show Mr. Weisselberg had an intent to benefit society.
Mr. Steinglass said in his closing argument that by far the biggest benefit for the Trump Organization was that it allowed companies to pay less to Mr. Weisselberg, who won $1.76 million in benefits not counted from 2005 to 2017.
If the compensation had been properly reported, it would have cost the company $3.5 million, Steinglass said, referring to a table with numbers he had rounded off.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is no peanuts, Mr. Steinglass told the jury.
He argued that once Mr. Weisselberg started cutting his total compensation to account for off-the-books benefits, it only hurt Allen Weisselberg and only helped business.
The jury appeared to be following closely when Mr. Steinglass described how the scheme had helped the Trump Organization, including helping the company avoid having to hand out raises; reduce health insurance contributions; cultivate executive happiness and loyalty; and increase their productivity by allowing them to work longer.
It was not just Mr. Weisselberg who engaged in the scheme, Mr. Steinglass argued; it was part of the corporate culture. He cited Mr. Calamari, the chief operating officer of Trump Organizations, and Jason Greenblatt, the general counsel, as participants and also receiving benefits through the program.
Mr. Steinglass said Mr. Weisselberg’s motivations for the company were akin to those of a professional musician in an orchestra.
A professional musician in an orchestra, she plays the best she can because she wants to succeed, he said, adding, But a side benefit is that it makes the whole orchestra sound better.
The defense objected to the prosecution’s mention of Mr. Trump earlier in his summary, but the judge said he would allow it as long as prosecutors do not randomly point to him.
I had been somewhat surprised by the extent to which the defense had actually brought up Mr. Trump’s name and felt it was perfectly fitting that Mr. Steinglass would then respond to that, Judge Merchan said.
Mr. Steinglass said in his closing statement on Friday that he would not go far to find out whether Mr. Trump was aware or involved, because in the end it doesn’t matter.
He nonetheless made the argument that Mr. Trump was not utterly ignorant clear.
It’s all part of Trump’s executive compensation package: free cars for you, free cars for your wife, free apartments for you, free apartments for your kids, Steinglass said.
As the morning progressed, some jurors appeared annoyed by objections from defense teams, with some shaking their heads and looking at their watches.
The closing of the prosecution came after the defense presented its own closing arguments on Thursday, with two of the company’s lawyers, Susan Necheles and Mr. van der Veen, arguing that Mr. Weisselberg had engaged in the fraud scheme tax only to help himself, and from which the company had not benefited.
The defense also sought to blame Donald Bender, an employee of Mazars, an outside accounting firm that prepared tax returns and offered other tax advice to the Trump Organization.
Kate Christobek contributed reporting.
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