Long-time Trump executive Weisselberg pleads guilty in tax fraud scheme

Weisselberg resigned after being indicted but remains on former president's payroll

The Trump Organisation's former accountant Allen Weisselberg pleaded guilty in a New York courtroom on Thursday. AP
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A long-time senior executive at former president Donald Trump's family business pleaded guilty on Thursday to conspiring with the company in a 15-year tax fraud.

Allen Weisselberg, the former chief financial officer at the Trump Organisation, entered his plea in a New York state court in Manhattan before Justice Juan Merchan.

Weisselberg, 75, may be required to give evidence against the Trump Organisation, which is also accused, at a criminal trial scheduled for October.

He is not expected to co-operate with Manhattan prosecutors in their larger probe into Mr Trump himself, a person familiar with the matter said.

Mr Trump has not been charged or accused of wrongdoing.

Despite Weisselberg's refusal to co-operate, his plea will likely strengthen prosecutors' case against Mr Trump's company, which has pleaded not guilty.

The accused were indicted in July 2021 on charges of scheming to defraud, tax fraud and falsifying business records, where some executives were paid "off the books".

Prosecutors said Weisselberg concealed and avoided taxes on $1.76 million of income including rent for a Manhattan apartment, lease payments for two Mercedes-Benz vehicles and tuition for family members, with Mr Trump signing the tuition checks.

Weisselberg will likely be sentenced to five months in jail and be given five years of probation.

The jail sentence will begin after the Trump Organisation's trial concludes.

He could be freed after about 100 days, another person familiar with the matter said.

That is far shorter than the many years in state prison he could have faced if, rather than plead guilty, he were convicted at trial.

The charges of which he was accused include many of those the Trump Organisation faces, as well as others including grand larceny.

Last Friday, Mr Merchan denied defence motions to dismiss the indictment, rejecting arguments that the defendants had been "selectively prosecuted" and that Weisselberg was targeted because he would not turn on his long-time boss.

The Trump Organisation manages golf clubs, hotels and other properties around the world. It could be heavily fine if convicted at trial.

Jury selection begins on October 24, fifteen days before the November 8 midterm election, where Mr Trump's Republican Party hopes to recapture both houses of Congress from Democrats.

Mr Trump has yet to say whether he plans another White House run in 2024.

Weisselberg has worked for Trump for about 50 years.

He gave up the chief financial officer job after the indictments but remains on Mr Trump's payroll as a senior adviser.

The indictment arose from an investigation by former Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance, but lost steam after Alvin Bragg became district attorney in January.

Two prosecutors who had been leading the investigation resigned in February, with one saying felony charges should be brought against Mr Trump, but that Mr Bragg indicated he had doubts.

Mr Trump faces many other legal battles.

Last week, FBI agents searched the former president's home for classified and other documents from his time in office.

Two days later, Mr Trump was deposed in New York Attorney General Letitia James' civil probe into his business. He repeatedly refused to answer questions, citing his Fifth Amendment US Constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Updated: August 18, 2022, 4:00 PM