The Trump Organisation and its long-time finance chief have pleaded not guilty to tax charges arising from a two-year investigation into former president Donald Trump’s company.
It is the first criminal case the New York authorities’ investigation has yielded. According to the indictment filed on Wednesday and unveiled on Thursday, from 2005 until this year Allen Weisselberg and the company cheated the state and city out of taxes by conspiring to pay senior executives off the books.
Prosecutor Carey Dunne described a 15-year scheme “orchestrated by the most senior executives”, including chief financial officer Weisselberg, that was “sweeping and audacious”.
Mr Trump was not charged at this stage of the investigation, which was jointly pursued by New York district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr and attorney general Letitia James, both Democrats, and Mr Dunne insisted politics played no role in the decision to bring charges.
Weisselberg, 73, was photographed walking into a building that houses the criminal courts and the Manhattan district attorney’s office. He was led into court later with his hands cuffed behind his back.
His lawyers, Mary Mulligan and Bryan Skarlatos, said in a statement before his appearance that the executive would “fight these charges in court”.
A lieutenant to generations of Trumps, Weisselberg has intimate knowledge of the former president’s business dealings and the case could give prosecutors the means to pressure him into co-operating with an ongoing probe into other aspects of the company’s business.
So far there’s no sign that the man regarded by Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka as a “fiercely loyal” deputy, who has “stood alongside my father and our family” for decades, will suddenly turn on them.
In a statement on Thursday, the Trump Organisation defended Weisselberg, saying the 48-year was being used by Mr Vance’s office as “a pawn in a scorched-earth attempt to harm the former president”.
“This is not justice; this is politics,” the Trump Organisation said, arguing that neither the IRS nor any other district attorney would ever think of bringing such charges over employee benefits.
Mr Trump did not respond to reporters’ questions about the case as he visited Texas on Wednesday. Earlier in the week, he blasted New York prosecutors as “rude, nasty, and totally biased” and said his company’s actions were “standard practice throughout the US business community, and in no way a crime”.
Mr Vance, who leaves office at the end of the year, has been conducting a wide-ranging investigation into a variety of matters involving Mr Trump and the Trump Organisation, such as hush-money payments to women on Mr Trump’s behalf and truthfulness in property valuations and tax assessments.
Mr Vance fought a long battle to get Mr Trump’s tax records and has been subpoenaing documents and interviewing company executives and other Trump insiders.
Weisselberg, a private man who lived for years in a modest home on Long Island, came under scrutiny of Mr Vance’s investigators in part because of questions about his son’s use of a Trump apartment at little or no cost.
Barry Weisselberg, who managed a Trump-operated ice rink in Central Park, testified in a 2018 divorce deposition that the Trump Parc East apartment was a “corporate apartment, so we didn’t have rent”.
His ex-wife, Jen Weisselberg, has been co-operating with both inquiries and given investigators reams of tax records and other documents.
In March, she told the New Yorker that some compensation for Trump Organisation executives came in the form of apartments and other items and that “only a small part of your salary is reported”.