Trump Organization, CFO's tax fraud trial set for October
Capping an extraordinary week in Donald Trump's post-presidency, a New York judge ordered Friday that his company and its longtime finance chief stand trial in the fall on tax fraud charges stemming from a long-running criminal investigation into Trump's business practices.
Manhattan Judge Juan Manuel Merchan scheduled jury selection for Oct. 24 in the case, which involves allegations the Trump Organization gave CFO Allen Weisselberg more than US$1.7 million in off-the-books compensation, including rent, car payments and school tuition.
Lawyers at a hearing Friday suggested the trial could last several months.
Merchan denied requests by Weisselberg's lawyers and the Trump Organization to throw out the case, though he did drop one criminal tax fraud count against the company citing the statute of limitations. More than a dozen other counts remain. Weisselberg's lawyers argued prosecutors in the Democrat-led Manhattan district attorney's office were punishing him because he wouldn't flip on the former president.
Merchan rejected that, saying that evidence presented to the grand jury "was legally sufficient to support the charges in the indictment," and that those proceedings were properly conducted, their "integrity unimpaired."
If the schedule holds, Weisselberg and the Trump Organization will be on trial during the November midterm elections where Trump's Republican party could win control of one or both houses of Congress. At the same time, Trump has been laying the groundwork for a potential comeback campaign for president in 2024.
The criminal trial is just one of several legal concerns playing out in real time in Trump's orbit. FBI agents searched Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in an unrelated probe Monday, and on Thursday, he and the U.S. Department of Justice called for the public release of search warrant documents.
Trump sat for a deposition Wednesday as New York Attorney General Letitia James wraps up a parallel civil investigation into allegations Trump's company misled lenders and tax authorities about asset values. Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination more than 400 times.
Trump has not been charged in the criminal probe, but prosecutors have noted that he signed some of the checks at the center of the case. Trump, who has decried the New York investigations as a "political witch hunt," has said his company's actions were standard practice in the real estate business and in no way a crime. James is a Democrat.
Weisselberg and the Trump Organization have pleaded not guilty.
The most serious charge against Weisselberg, grand larceny, carries five to 15 years in prison. The tax fraud charges against the company are punishable by a fine of double the amount of unpaid taxes, or $250,000, whichever is larger.
Weisselberg, who turns 75 on Monday, is the only Trump executive charged in the yearslong criminal investigation started by former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who went to the Supreme Court to secure Trump's tax records. Vance's successor, Alvin Bragg, is now overseeing the investigation. Several other Trump executives have been granted immunity to testify before a grand jury in the case.
Prosecutors alleged that Weisselberg and the Trump Organization schemed to give off-the-books compensation to senior executives, including Weisselberg, for 15 years. Weisselberg alone was accused of defrauding the federal government, state and city out of more than $900,000 in unpaid taxes and undeserved tax refunds.
In the months after Weisselberg's arrest, the criminal probe appeared to be progressing toward a possible criminal indictment of Trump himself, but the investigation slowed, a grand jury was disbanded and a top prosecutor left after Bragg took office in January -- though he insists it is continuing.
Although the criminal investigation is separate from James' civil investigation, which could lead to a lawsuit and fines for Trump and his company, her office has been involved in both investigations. James has dispatched several lawyers to work with Manhattan prosecutors, and it was evidence uncovered in the civil investigation that led to criminal charges against Weisselberg.
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