This is a developing story.
The Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, have been charged with tax fraud by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, allegedly paying the CFO $1.76 million “off the books” to fund a lavish lifestyle, including an Upper West Side apartment and Mercedes-Benz leases. The charges are the culmination of a three-year probe by Cyrus Vance’s office that has finally ensnared Donald Trump’s business empire, an outcome the former president tried mightily to avoid.
The indictment accuses the Trump Organization and Weisselberg of engaging in a 15-year scheme to evade taxes by concealing from authorities compensation beyond his salary. More than $1 million was provided by the company in the form expenses for an Upper West Side apartment, according to the indictment, and another $360,000 was for his family’s tuition expenses, “to be paid by personal checks drawn on the account of and signed by Donald J. Trump” and later his revocable trust. (Trump is not accused of wrongdoing.) The company also paid $200,000 worth of Mercedes-Benz leases for Weisselberg and his wife, gave him nearly $30,000 in cash, recorded as “holiday entertainment” in the company’s books, and paid for beds, televisions, carpeting, and furniture in his Florida home.
Weisselberg surrendered to authorities on Thursday morning and was led into a downtown courtroom later that day with his hands cuffed behind his back. He entered a plea of not guilty after prosecutors revealed their long-awaited case, as Vance and Attorney General Letitia James watched from seats nearby.
The 73-year-old accountant has worked for the Trump family for a half-century and is said to possess intimate knowledge of the Trump Organization’s inner workings, especially regarding how its namesake managed the company during the period under investigation. Prosecutors have reportedly tried to obtain Weisselberg’s cooperation to build a case against Trump, but they have so far apparently failed. His attorneys denounced the charges as politically motivated and said they plan to fight them in court.
Thursday’s indictment did not include potential fraud by Trump that has been under investigation by the DA’s office. Trump allegedly inflated his net worth and the value of assets to defraud lenders and illegally lower his tax liability. It is unclear what Manhattan prosecutors have determined regarding these allegations. Meanwhile, a parallel investigation is underway by the attorney general’s office, which could hit the Trump Organization with separate criminal or civil charges.
Whether or not Trump or his business are in further danger, the charges mark the final defeat of the former president’s efforts to prevent prosecutors from digging into his business.
The investigation began in 2018, after it was revealed that Michael Cohen, a former executive and Trump’s fixer, paid money to Stormy Daniels to keep her allegations of an affair with Trump secret during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. In 2019, Vance’s team issued subpoenas to Trump’s accounting firm for financial documents, but Trump slowed the investigation by suing to block the requests all the way up to the Supreme Court. In a 7-2 decision last summer, the Court defeated Trump’s challenge and cleared the way for the documents to be handed over to prosecutors.
Trump’s tax records have been in the DA’s possession ever since, a particularly personal defeat for the former president who refused to release his tax returns as every White House candidate had going back to Richard Nixon. The New York Times eventually reported, based on Trump family tax documents, that the president wasn’t a self-proclaimed business genius but rather he lost more money than almost any other American taxpayer. Trump’s tax returns will remain secret, however, unless they are used as evidence in court proceedings.