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Still on Trump payroll, former CFO testifies at tax fraud trial

Hired by Donald Trump's father long before he began working for the former president, Allen Weisselberg oversaw the Trump brand as it expanded from condos and golf courses to reality television.

MANHATTAN (CN) — The executive at the center of the Trump Organization tax fraud trial may be testifying for the government, but he’s still on the company payroll — and expects this year’s bonus to hit his bank account just the same. 

Allen Weisselberg, the company’s former chief financial officer, took the stand Tuesday in the New York trial, roughly three months after he pleaded guilty to 15 counts against him. He admitted to receiving $1.7 million in off-the-books compensation for expenses like rent, car payments, furnishings and tuition for his grandchildren. 

Some of those funds came from the Trump Corporation, which is named in the indictment along with the Trump Payroll Corp., both of which fall under the Trump Organization umbrella. The tuition payments came from former President Donald Trump’s personal account, according to documents shown in court. 

Weisselberg testified that he knew he owed taxes on those payments but didn’t report them. 

Trial so far has centered on who benefited when Weisselberg and other executives were paid lower salaries in exchange for perks. 

Defense attorneys claim that Weisselberg went rogue, acting for his own benefit and not the company’s. Still, the former accounting chief apparently remains in the company’s good graces. Now on leave, he’s making the same $640,000 annual salary, and expects “hopefully” to earn the usual $500,000 bonus in January, Weisselberg testified. 

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 said of the gathering, which was previously reported by media outlets.

Prosecutors seek to prove that knowledge of the bookkeeping fraud went all the way to Trump himself, and that it saved the company money. If Weisselberg had paid taxes on a salary bump, the Trump Corporation would have had to pay him twice as much as the pre-tax benefits were worth in order to award the executive the same value, Assistant District Attorney Susan Hoffinger reasoned. 

“So was that a savings to the Trump Corporation, not to have to pay you double the amount out of pocket?” Hoffinger asked. 

“Well, you could say that, yes,” Weisselberg acquiesced. 

Weisselberg began working in 1973 for Donald Trump’s father, Fred Trump, and left 13 years later to work for the future U.S. president at his Fifth Avenue office in Manhattan. By then, the Trump Towers had taken their place in the cityscape, but work was underway building condominiums and coop buildings; acquiring and constructing golf courses and resorts; and boosting the Trump brand. 

“I’m sure you remember ‘The Apprentice.’ That was one thing we did,” Weisselberg testified.

As the company expanded with more properties, entities and bank accounts, Weisselberg said he kept Trump up to date with a weekly one-page report, providing a “snapshot” of all the money that came in and out.  

He also testified that Trump had an “open-door policy” for meeting with employees, responding to a question that seemed aimed at poking holes in a defense theory that Weisselberg was a micromanager who insisted on putting himself between Trump and the company’s controller. 

Earlier on Tuesday, jurors heard the end of testimony from that controller, Jeff McConney. He still works for the Trump Corporation, which is paying his attorney fees, per a contract provision. 

McConney testified last week that Weisselberg, to whom he reported, had told him Trump knew about Weisselberg’s salary drop in exchange for benefits. McConney then walked it back, saying on Monday that he didn’t remember Trump’s name coming up in the conversation. 

Judge Juan Manuel Merchan allowed prosecutors to consider McConney a hostile witness

“He has a hard time, frankly, giving very credible answers,” Merchan said.

Between McConney and Weisselberg, jurors heard brief testimony from Trump Corporation accounts payable supervisor Deborah Tarasoff. 

It was Tarasoff who in September 2016 removed a note from the accounting system that put Weisselberg’s name on the payments to his grandkids’ school. 

“Allen called me into his office and told me to do it,” Tarasoff said. The memo was removed from 12 payments, court documents show. 

Tarasoff — also a current Trump Corporation employee — said she didn’t believe she had committed any fouls at work, nor was she asked to. 

Had Weisselberg asked her to do something she considered wrong, however, “I guess I would,” Tarasoff said, “cause he’s the boss.”

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