As published on theguardian.com, Tuesday 16 August, 2022.
Donald Trump’s longtime finance chief is expected to plead guilty as soon as Thursday in a tax evasion case that is the only criminal prosecution to arise from a long-running investigation into the former president’s company, three people familiar with the matter told the Associated Press.
Allen Weisselberg, CFO of the Trump Organization, was scheduled to be tried in October on allegations he took more than $1.7m in off-the-books compensation from the company, including rent, car payments and school tuition.
The judge overseeing the case, Juan Manuel Merchan, scheduled a hearing for Thursday but did not say why. The people who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity said the purpose of Thursday’s hearing was for Weisselberg to enter a guilty plea, but cautioned that plea deals sometimes fall apart before they are finalized in court.
Weisselberg’s lawyer, Nicholas Gravante Jr, told the New York Times on Monday that Weisselberg has been engaged in plea negotiations to resolve the case, but did not specify terms of a potential plea deal. Reached by the AP, Gravante declined to comment.
The Times, citing two people with knowledge of the matter, said Weisselberg was expected to receive a five-month jail sentence, which would make him eligible for release after about 100 days. The deal would not require Weisselberg to testify or cooperate in any way with an ongoing criminal investigation into Trump’s business practices.
Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, is also charged in the case but did not appear to be involved in the plea agreement talks. Weisselberg and the Trump Organization has pleaded not guilty.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office declined comment. A message seeking a comment was left with a lawyer for the Trump Organization.
News of Weisselberg’s plea negotiations came days after the judge denied requests by his lawyers and the Trump Organization to throw out the case.
Weisselberg, who turned 75 on Monday, is the only Trump executive charged in the years-long criminal investigation started by Cyrus Vance Jr, the former Manhattan district attorney, who went to the supreme court to secure Trump’s tax records. Vance’s successor, Alvin Bragg, is now overseeing the investigation.
Prosecutors alleged that Weisselberg and the Trump Organization schemed to give off-the-books compensation to senior executives, including Weisselberg, for 15 years. Weisselberg alone was accused of defrauding the federal government, state and city out of more than $900,000 in unpaid taxes and undeserved tax refunds.
The most serious charge against Weisselberg, grand larceny, carried a potential penalty of five to 15 years in prison. The tax fraud charges against the company are punishable by a fine of double the amount of unpaid taxes, or $250,000, whichever is larger.
Trump has not been charged in the criminal investigation probe, but prosecutors have noted that he signed some of the checks at the center of the case. Trump, who has decried the New York investigations as a “political witch hunt”, has said his company’s actions were standard practice in the real estate business and in no way a crime.
Last week, Trump sat for a deposition in the New York attorney general Letitia James’ parallel civil investigation into allegations Trump’s company misled lenders and tax authorities about asset values. Trump invoked his fifth amendment protection against self-incrimination more than 400 times.