Former US President Donald Trump’s real estate company was convicted on Tuesday of carrying out a 15-year-long criminal scheme to defraud tax authorities, adding to the legal woes facing the former U.S. president as he campaigns for the office again in 2024.
The Trump Organization – which operates hotels, golf courses, and other real estates around the world – was found guilty of paying personal expenses for top executives including former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, and issuing bonus checks to them as if they were independent contractors.
The company faces up to $1.6 million in fines after being convicted on all charges, including scheming to defraud tax authorities, conspiracy, and falsifying business records. Trump was not charged in the case.
Justice Juan Merchan, who presided over the trial in a state court in New York, set a sentencing date for 13 Jan 2022. While the fine is not expected to be material for a company of the Trump Organization’s size, the conviction could complicate its ability to do business.
Weisselberg, 75, testified as the government’s star witness as part of a plea deal that calls for a sentence of five months in jail. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office prosecuted the case, called the verdict “very just.”
“The former president’s companies now stand convicted of crimes,” Bragg said in the New York courthouse after the verdict, speaking of the Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corporation, the two units of the Trump Organization which were convicted.
Asked if he regretted not charging Trump in the case, Bragg did not respond. He has said that the office’s investigation into Trump is continuing.
Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform on November 19 that his family got “no economic gain from the acts done by the executive”.
Republican Trump, who on November 15 announced his third campaign for the presidency, has called the probe a politically motivated “witch hunt”. Both Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and his predecessor who brought the charges, Cyrus Vance, are Democrats.
Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty in August to concealing $1.76m in income from tax authorities, testified that Trump signed the Christmas bonus cheques and personally paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in private school tuition for Weisselberg’s grandchildren.
He also said Trump’s two sons — who took over the company’s operations in 2017 after Trump became president — gave him a raise after they knew about his tax dodge scheme.
“The whole narrative that Donald Trump was blissfully ignorant is just not real,” Steinglass said.
The Trump Organization also sought to argue that Donald Bender, an outside accountant, should have caught and blown the whistle on Weisselberg’s fraud.
The company called Bender as its main witness, but his testimony appeared to backfire when he said he trusted that the information Weisselberg gave him was accurate and that he was under no obligation to investigate further.