Trump's company benefited from tax fraud, prosecutor says at end of trial




  • In US
  • 2022-12-02 17:43:56Z
  • By Reuters
 

By Luc Cohen and Karen Freifeld

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Trump Organization reaped substantial benefits from a 15-year tax fraud scheme, a prosecutor said near the end of the trial of former U.S. President Donald Trump's real estate company, countering defense claims that a rogue executive acted for himself.

Joshua Steinglass, from the Manhattan district attorney's office, told jurors in his closing argument that the scheme helped Trump's company keep salaries down, shift tax deductions to Trump entities such as his Mar-a-Lago club, reduce payroll taxes, and keep executives happy and loyal.

"The entire defense strategy here is to promote the notion that Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg," Steinglass told the jury in a New York state court in Manhattan. "Has a nice ring to it, but it's just not grounded in reality," he said, referring to Allen Weisselberg, the company's longtime chief financial officer, who pleaded guilty and testified for the prosecution.

The Trump Organization has pleaded not guilty to paying personal expenses for some executives without reporting the income, and compensating them as if they were independent contractors. Trump was not personally charged.

Steinglass told jurors that Trump executives other than Weisselberg were involved, saying the company's chief operating officer and a former general counsel received Christmas bonuses as if they were independent contractors.

If convicted on all nine counts it faces, Trump's company faces up to $1.6 million in fines.

Steinglass is expected to finish his closing argument on Friday, with the jury beginning deliberations on Monday.

'SMORGASBORD OF BENEFITS'

Defense lawyers had told jurors on Thursday that Weisselberg's intent was to benefit himself and not the company.

Susan Necheles, one of the lawyers, cited Weisselberg's testimony that he acted out of greed and was embarrassed about betraying the trust of the Trump family, for whom it had worked for nearly five decades.

But Steinglass highlighted Weisselberg's testimony that Trump's company saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by covering his $7,000 monthly rent on a luxury Manhattan apartment and other expenses, instead of giving him a raise.

He also said the scheme helped executives slash their personal tax bills.

"The smorgasbord of benefits is designed to keep its top executives happy and loyal," Steinglass said.

Weisselberg, 75, also testified that the company paid for a car lease for his wife, prepared a bogus wage statement so she could claim social security benefits, and paid for his son's apartment.

"The corporations are now paying him less out of pocket, and as he told you explicitly, that was a benefit to them," Steinglass said.

Weisselberg is expected to serve five months in jail after pleading guilty to tax fraud and other charges. He is on paid leave and hopes to get another $500,000 bonus in January.

Trump, a Republican, has called the charges politically motivated. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is a Democrat, as is his predecessor Cyrus Vance, who brought the charges last year.

The case is separate from New York Attorney General Letitia James's $250 million civil lawsuit accusing Trump, three of his adult children and his company of overstating asset values and Trump's net worth to get favorable bank loans and insurance coverage.

Trump also faces federal investigations into his removal of government documents from the White House after leaving office and efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss, and a Georgia state probe over attempts to undo his election defeat there.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen and Karen Freifeld in New York; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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