MANHATTAN (CN) — Donald Trump’s longtime accountant choked up during testimony Thursday in the federal trial where two Trump entities are accused of tax fraud.
Allen Weisselberg was indicted along with two businesses under the Trump Organization umbrella. He pleaded guilty in August to taking $1.7 million in off-the-books compensation for expenses including rent for an Upper West Side apartment, home furnishings, and Mercedes Benzes for himself and his wife.
For nearly five decades, Weisselberg worked for the Trump family, starting in 1973 under Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father. On the stand, Weisselberg said he had betrayed the Trumps’ trust.
“Are you embarrassed about what you did?” defense attorney Alan Futerfas asked.
“More than you can imagine,” Weisselberg replied as his voice broke.
Futerfas asked Weisselberg if he needed a break. “I’m OK,” the witness replied, but the moment lined up with a lunch break anyway.
Weisselberg wrapped up his direct testimony Thursday morning and spent most of the day on cross-examination by Futerfas, who elicited from Weisselberg repeatedly that his tax crimes were for his own benefit, and that he hadn’t shared the dirty dealings with anyone at the business except for controller Jeff McConney, an earlier witness in the trial.
“It was my own personal greed that led to this,” Weisselberg said, agreeing with Futerfas that he had a “duty to protect” the Trump family and its companies from “just this kind of problem.”
But prosecutors note that the scheme did benefit the Trump Corporation, saving the business money on payroll and Medicare taxes, for instance.
Executives including Weisselberg took payments as both employees and independent contractors, prosecutors’ evidence suggests, which allowed them to pay for personal expenses pre-tax and to take advantage of retirement options only available to those who are self-employed.
Weisselberg testified that the practice dates back to the 1980s, long before he began working for the future and now former U.S. president. It formally ended in 2017, after Trump won the election.
“We were going through an entire cleanup process of the company to make sure that, since Mr. Trump is now president, that everything was being done properly,” Weisselberg testified.
Futerfas had Weisselberg confirm on cross-examination that the election necessitated “a significant restructuring of the business and how it operated,” per regulations that apply to a sitting president.
Around that time, Weisselberg asked an accounting employee to remove his name from a dozen personal payments Trump had made for Weisselberg’s grandchildren’s tuition, according to court testimony.
Weisselberg said he planned to pay Trump back for that arrangement, which he said began with a joke about Trump having to pay for his own grandkids’ schooling.
“Mr. Trump jokingly said, ‘Ugh, I have to pay more tuition for these kids, so I might as well pay for your grandkids, too,’” Weisselberg testified.
Weisselberg said he told Trump he would pay him back, then did so by lowering his own salary. Though Trump signed the tuition checks — copies were displayed in court — Weissleberg said he kept Trump in the dark about the deduction scheme, and the two never discussed repayment after the initial conversation.
While on leave from his CFO role Weisselberg remains on the Trump payroll, and expects to make the same $1.14 million annual salary plus bonus as when he formally held the title.
The same day Weisselberg’s guilty plea was finalized, Trump Organization employees threw him a birthday party at Trump Towers — “Much to my regret,” Weisselberg testified.
Weisselberg’s testimony will continue on Friday.Follow @NinaPullano
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