MANHATTAN (CN) — Less than a week after a New York judge set a trial date for a tax-evasion case against the Trump Organization, Donald Trump’s longtime finance chief Allen Weisselberg pleaded guilty Thursday in Manhattan criminal court.
“You have agreed to plead guilty to the entire indictment,“ Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan told Weisselberg at a 45-minute hearing. “You have agreed to testify truthfully at the trial of the Trump Organization.”
Weisselberg, 75, was scheduled to be tried in October on allegations that the Trump Organization paid him more than $1.7 million in off-the-books compensation that included rent, car payments and school tuition.
The plea deal requires Weisselberg to plead guilty to all 15 counts of a criminal indictment and to testify at the upcoming Trump Organization trial.
So far, at least, the Trump Organization is continuing to stand behind Weisselberg.
"The two Trump companies that the Manhattan DA has been targeting ... will not be taking a plea for the simple reason that they have done nothing wrong," the spokesperson said Thursday. “Allen Weisselberg, a long time, trusted employee of The Trump Organization, is a fine and honorable man who, for the past 4 years, has been harassed, persecuted and threatened by law enforcement, particularly the Manhattan district attorney, in their never-ending, politically motivated quest to get President Trump."
For his change of plea, Weisselberg agreed to a five-month sentence in state prison with five years of probation, and to repay nearly $2 million in taxes due to the state of New York.
By accepting the deal, Weisselberg waived his right to fight his conviction before a state appellate court.
“Today Allen Weisselberg admitted in Court that he used his position at the Trump Organization to bilk taxpayers and enrich himself,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said Thursday morning. “Instead of paying his fair share like everyone else, Weisselberg had the Trump Organization provide him with a rent-free apartment, expensive cars, private school tuition for his grandchildren and new furniture — all without paying required taxes.
Judge Merchan advised Weisselberg that he faces a sentence of five to 15 years in prison if he violates the terms of his plea agreement.
Addressing the judge Thursday morning, Weiselberg admitted to omitting $1.76 million in Trump Organization compensation from his income tax reporting.
The prosecution sprang out of evidence uncovered in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ civil investigation into Trump’s business practices, with the Manhattan DA filing criminal tax fraud charges against the company and Weisselberg in July 2021.
James’ civil investigation and the criminal probe by then-Manhattan DA Cy Vance had overlapped in some areas, including examining whether Trump or his businesses manipulated the value of assets — inflating them in some cases and minimizing them in others — to gain favorable loan terms and tax benefits.
The state attorney general, whose civil investigation into the Trump Organization remains ongoing, applauded the plea deal.
"Let this guilty plea send a loud and clear message: We will crack down on anyone who steals from the public for personal gain because no one is above the law," James said in a statement Thursday.
Last summer at their arraignments, Weisselberg and the Trump Organization had both pleaded not guilty. Their defense lawyers had painted the charges as retribution by the Democrat-led Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for Weisselberg's refusal to flip on the former Republican president.
After Judge Merchan denied all of Weisselberg’s various motions to dismiss the case last week, court records show that Manhattan prosecutors and Weisselberg’s lawyers then met with Judge Merchan this past Monday.
Weisselberg's deal drew criticism Thursday from Michael Cohen, the former personal lawyer to Trump who was given a three-year sentence after pleading guilty in 2018 to tax crimes, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations — some of which involved his role in facilitating payments to two women to keep them from talking about alleged affairs with Trump.
Cohen told Courthouse News Service Weisselberg's five-month sentence is “way too lenient for a person who refused to cooperate, tax evaded and participated in every dirty Trump deal.”
“For more than three years, Weisselberg has delayed the system with multiple motions to dismiss, delayed hearings and depositions,” Cohen said. “Time caught up to him and when it did, he did the only thing could ... take a plea deal.”
James, the New York attorney general, has said the state’s parallel civil investigation into the Trump Organization’s business dealings started after Cohen told Congress in 2019 that Trump had a history of misrepresenting the value of assets to gain favorable loan terms and tax benefits.
Cohen gave copies of three of Trump’s financial statements to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Cohen said Trump gave the statements to Deutsche Bank to inquire about a loan to buy the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and to Forbes magazine to substantiate his claim to a spot on its list of the world’s wealthiest people.
Trump's lawyers have portrayed Cohen as carrying a vendetta against Trump and said in court filings that it “stretches all credibility to believe that” James' office put “any legitimate stock" in his testimony.
If Judge Merchan's trial schedule set last Friday holds, the Trump Organization will be on trial during the November midterm elections where Trump’s Republican party could win control of one or both houses of Congress.
At the same time, Trump has been laying the groundwork for a potential comeback campaign for president in 2024.
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