NEW YORK - Former President Donald Trump knew about Trump Organization executives' tax-dodging schemes, a Manhattan prosecutor told a jury in a closing statement Thursday in the organization's tax fraud trial.
"Donald Trump knew exactly what was going on with his top executives," said Manhattan Assistant DA Joshua Steinglass when he addressed jurors.
Steinglass' statement came near the end of the day's court session. Later, after the jury left the courtroom for the evening, Trump Organization lawyer Alan Futerfas openly complained that Steinglass had invoked Trump himself in his closing argument.
"I guess you all shouldn't have opened the door," Steinglass shot back.
Steinglass argued that his remarks were appropriate since in their closing statements, defense lawyers said the ex-president knew nothing about the crimes central to the case, which the Trump Organization blames on its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg.
Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan took Steinglass' side. He gave prosecutors the green light to continue discussing what Trump knew of the alleged scheme when their summation resumes Friday.
The judge noted that defense lawyers were the ones who brought up Trump in the first place, with Trump Corporation lawyer Susan Necheles claiming no one in the Trump family knew about the fraud.
If Trump's lawyers could bring up the ex-president's name, then the prosecution could do so as well, the judge reasoned. "It's only fair," Merchan said.
Earlier in his summation, Steinglass said Trump's companies "cultivated a culture of fraud and deception" that allowed senior executives to line their pockets with untaxed perks. He said the executives deliberately concealed that income from tax authorities, and scapegoated their accountants when they were caught.
"It's not that the folks at the Trump corporation didn't know what they were doing was illegal," said Steinglass. "They just didn't care."
Trump lawyer Necheles, in turn, told jurors the Manhattan district attorney's case was about Weisselberg's greed and false tax returns, of which his employer was unaware and not responsible.
"We are here today for one reason and one reason only: the greed of Allen Weisselberg," said the Trump Corporation lawyer. "Along the way, he messed up. He got greedy. Once he got started, it was difficult for him to stop."
For the Trump Organization entities to be convicted, prosecutors must convince jurors that Weisselberg was a "high-ranking managerial agent" when he devised and carried out the tax dodging scheme. Jurors must also find Weisselberg was acting within the scope of his job as CFO, with intent to benefit the company.
Weisselberg, who described himself as Trump's "eyes and ears" from a financial standpoint in a 2015 deposition, will soon be sentenced to five months in jail after pleading guilty to the fraud in August. His deal was in exchange for testifying for the prosecution and a shorter prison sentence.
On the stand, Weisselberg admitted evading taxes for 15 years on $1.7 million worth of lavish fringe benefits. Purchases on the Trump Organization's dime included rent on a Manhattan apartment, Mercedes Benz car leases, furniture in his Florida home, and his grandkids' private school tuition.
A full-time Trump Organization employee for decades, Weisselberg described receiving yearly bonuses totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars as an independent contractor. That meant the business didn't owe payroll taxes. Weisselberg said he knew the fraud benefited the company.
His deputy, company controller Jeff McConney, 67, spent days on the stand under immunity, which he received because he testified before the grand jury that indicted the organization. McConney claimed he was just following the boss's orders when he broke the law by underreporting how much money the Trump Organization put in Weisselberg's pocket.
The Trump entities stand to shell out $1.7 million if convicted - considerably less than what they owe in attorneys' fees. Trump is not charged in the case, which he has called a witch hunt.