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Tax crimes trial of Trump Org opens with jury selection

The former president is not charged himself but his notoriety as a flashy businessman and polarizing political figure could bog down the process to empanel an impartial jury.

MANHATTAN (CN) — More than three years after state prosecutors began a criminal probe into the Trump family’s business practices, jury selection is set to commence in Manhattan Supreme Court on Monday morning in a trial over the Trump Organization’s untaxed fringe benefits given to senior executives.  

The long-awaited criminal case brought by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in July 2021 does not name the former president as a defendant. Instead his Trump Organization is charged with tax fraud, alongside former CFO Allen Weisselberg who pleaded guilty to collecting more than $1.7 million in off-the-books compensation between 2005 and 2021. 

Weisselberg entered that plead only two months before the case was set to go to trial, admitting to his receipt of untaxed perks like rent on a Trump-branded Upper West Side apartment, car payments, school tuition and nearly $30,000 in cash.  

The indictment says two Trump Organization executives other than Weisselberg also received substantial under-the-table compensation, including lodging and the payment of automobile leases, but never reported such benefits as taxable income to local, state or federal tax authorities as required by law. Neither if the other officials are identified by name.

Trump, a Republican, has denounced the Manhattan prosecutors’ investigation as a “political witch hunt.”  The Trump Organization — represented by criminal attorney Alan Futerfas and by Susan Necheles and Gedalia Stern of Necheles Law — has said it did nothing wrong and that it looks forward “to having our day in court.”  

Presiding Judge Juan Manuel Merchan expects the organization’s criminal tax fraud trial, dense with financial records and expert testimony, to take at least one month once a jury is seated.  

If that schedule holds, the Trump Organization will be on trial during the upcoming 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.  

The Trump Organization's former Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg arrives at court in New York on Aug. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The star witness for the prosecution is expected to be Weisselberg, one of Trump’s most trusted and loyal executives since the 1970s.  

Weisselberg’s deal required him plead guilty to all 15 counts against him and to testify for the government.. 

Though he agreed to a five-month sentence in state prison with five years of probation, Weisselberg will not be formally sentenced until after the trial. Until then, he remains free on bail. 

By accepting the plea deal, he waived his right to fight his conviction before a state appellate court. He must also repay nearly $2 million in taxes due to the state of New York.  

The team of prosecutors on the case is led by Susan Hoffinger, chief of the Investigation Division. 

The Trump Organization’s criminal trial is far from the only the legal entanglement coming to a head just before the November midterm elections. 

A month ago, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced a sprawling $250 million civil case that named Trump and his three eldest children, Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump, as defendants on counts of “persistent and repeated fraud,” insurance fraud, falsifying business records and related conspiracy counts.  

James announced the suit a month after Trump sat for deposition — a session in which he repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer questions under oath.  

The AG is seeking the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee the Trump Organization’s activities based on the allegation that the company was taking steps to evade potential penalties, such as forming a new corporate entity named Trump Organization II. 

Donald Trump also sat for deposition questioning last week in the civil defamation case brought by journalist E. Jean Carroll, who alleges Trump raped her in a changing room at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in 1990s.  

Earlier this month, the Jan. 6 committee voted to subpoena Trump after laying out his complicity in a scheme to overturn the 2020 election culminating in last year’s insurrection. Trump’s longtime ally Steve Bannon was sentenced on Friday to four months in prison for defying a subpoena from the same House committee. 

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg says his office’s criminal probe into Trump’s business dealings remains ongoing despite the February departures of top investigators Carey Dunne and Mark Pomerantz from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. 

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