The longtime CFO of Trump Org. chokes, says he has betrayed the trust

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s longtime chief of finance choked on the witness stand Thursday, saying he betrayed the trust of the Trump family by plotting to evade taxes on $1.7 million in benefits paid by the company , including a Manhattan apartment and luxury cars.

Allen Weisselberg, a senior adviser and ex-chief financial officer at the former president’s Trump Organization, said he conspired with a subordinate to hide more than a decade’s worth of extras from his taxable income, but that neither Trump nor his family were involved in the scheme.

The Trump Organization is now on trial, accused of helping Weisselberg and other executives avoid paying income taxes on compensation in addition to their paychecks. Prosecutors allege the company is liable because Weisselberg was a “senior executive agent” entrusted to act on the company’s behalf.

“It was my own personal greed that led to this case,” said Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty to tax crimes and agreed to testify against the company in exchange for a five-month prison sentence.

When asked if he was ashamed of what he was doing, a morose Weisselberg said, “More than you can imagine.”

His emotional testimony came on his second day as the prosecution’s star witness, as a corporate attorney cross-examined him to remind him of the trust the Trump family placed in him for decades.

Weisselberg began working for Trump’s father in 1973 and joined Trump in 1986 as an executive at his then nascent Trump Organization. hotel and real estate empire.

Weisselberg also recalled helping Trump through the company’s dark times in the early 1990s, including casino foreclosures and the bankruptcy of his Trump Shuttle airline. He reminisced about watching Trump’s three oldest children – Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric – grow up before his eyes, admitting that he was “one of the most trusted people they knew”.

The Trump Organization denies wrongdoing. The company could be fined more than $1 million if convicted, but a guilty verdict could also hinder the company’s ability to get loans and close deals, and could lead to attempts by governments, such as New York City , to cancel contracts with Trump entities.

The Trump Organization continues to hire Weisselberg and pay his usual salary of $640,000, even after he went on furlough last month. In court, however, the firm’s lawyers portrayed Weisselberg as a loyal lieutenant gone rogue and single-handedly masterminded the tax evasion scheme without Trump or the Trump family’s knowledge.

Some of Weisselberg’s testimonies seemed to underline that point. But the 75-year-old executive refuted the defense’s claim that his plan didn’t help the company’s profits either. He also touched on another financial arrangement, with vacation pay, which had saved the company money for years.

Weisselberg testified that he conspired to hide his perks from the company’s senior vice president and controller, Jeffrey McConney, by falsifying payroll records to deduct their costs from his salary. The settlement reduced Weisselberg’s tax liability, while also saving the company money because it wouldn’t have to give him the hefty pay rise needed to cover the cost of the perks and additional income taxes he would have to pay.

The company’s chief operating officer, Matthew Calamari Sr., also cut his salary to deduct the cost of a company-paid apartment and cars for him and his wife, but Weisselberg denied they were in cahoots. He said he had no knowledge of or involvement in what Calamari was doing.

Calamari has not been charged with a crime. McConney, who was granted immunity, testified during the first five days of the trial in Manhattan state court.

Weisselberg told jurors that Trump approved his salary cuts and, until he was elected president in 2016, personally paid the private school fees for his two grandchildren. He gave no indication that Trump knew he was maneuvering to avoid taxes.

However, the company had a longstanding practice of dodging taxes on the lucrative Christmas bonuses Trump handed out to his company’s executives each year.

Weisselberg said the company has evaded taxes for decades by drawing some Trump-signed bonus checks from subsidiaries and paying executives as independent contractors, allowing the company to avoid payroll taxes and allowing the subsidiaries to deduct the bonuses as expenses.

Weisselberg said the practice began before he joined the Trump Organization and was discontinued only after a tax attorney audited the company’s compensation practices when Trump took office in 2017.

Trump “has always wanted to sign the bonus checks,” Weisselberg said — applying his trademark, seismograph-like signature to a stack of 70 or more checks written to key corporate officials, including Weisselberg and Calamari.

The checks would then be put into Christmas cards, also signed by Trump, who then acted like Santa Claus and handed them out to executives in the company’s Trump Tower offices.

The Trump Organization switched to paying executive bonuses in full as taxable employee income once Trump went to the White House.

“We were working on a whole clean-up process at the company. With Mr. Trump now president, we wanted to make sure everything went well,” Weisselberg said.

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Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak and send confidential tips by visiting https://www.ap.org/tips/.

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