US: Prosecutors claim Trump firms operated scheme to allow top executives evade tax.

As published on irishtimes.com, Monday 31 October, 2022.

Companies owned by former US president Donald Trump and his family operated a scheme allowing top executives to evade tax by providing them with expensive off-the-books benefits over a 15-year period, prosecutors in New York have alleged.

It is claimed that one senior company executive, long-time chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, received $1.76 million (€1.78 million) in perks including rent on an apartment in New York’s Upper West Side, a leased Mercedes car and private school tuition for his grandchildren.

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger told a jury on Monday that the case was “about greed and cheating”. Mr Trump has not been charged in relation to the current case, nor have any of his family. However, his name was mentioned prominently in the proceedings and his relations could be called as witnesses in the case.

Ms Hoffinger said that by 2008, Mr Weisselberg was making more than $1 million dollars a year, but that his full compensation was already being hidden. She said he received about $200,000 of his income a year through invisible benefits.

“It was a clever scheme,” she said. “It just wasn’t legal.”

Mr Trump’s family business is generally known as the Trump Organisation. However, it actually involves about 500 different corporate entities. Two of these, the Trump Corporation and the Trump Payroll Corporation, are at the centre of the current tax fraud case being brought by New York prosecutors.

The indictment maintains that the Trump Payroll Corporation is run by Trump Corporation employees and issues pay cheques to Trump Corporation employees, withholds payroll taxes and prepares forms for filing with tax authorities. The Trump Corporation manages Mr Trump’s residential properties in New York and collects fees as well as rent from some commercial tenants.

Defence lawyers acting for the two Trump companies said in opening statements that Mr Weisselberg and some other executives were responsible for any tax evasion but not the businesses themselves.

“It was all about Allen Weisselberg, but Allen Weisselberg doesn’t own the Trump Corporation,” said Susan Necheles. “What the prosecutors have not made clear to you is that the person at the Trump Corporation who is responsible for instructing that all of this income not be reported is none other than Mr Weisselberg himself.”