Trump Organisation convicted of scheme to defraud tax authorities

Former president was not charged in the case

The real estate company of former US president Donald Trump was convicted of carrying out a scheme to defraud tax authorities. EPA
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Donald Trump's real estate company was convicted on Tuesday of carrying out a criminal scheme to defraud tax authorities for more than 15 years.

The conviction adds to the legal woes facing the former US president as he campaigns for the office again in 2024.

The Trump Organisation — which operates hotels, golf courses and other property around the world — faces fines over the conviction.

The exact amount will be determined by the judge overseeing the trial in the New York state court at a later date.

The company pleaded not guilty. Mr Trump was not charged in the case.

While the fine is not expected to be of significance for a company of the Trump Organisation's size, the conviction by a jury could complicate its ability to do business by unnerving lenders and partners.

The case centred on charges that the company paid personal expenses such as free rent and car leases for top executives, including former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, without reporting the income, and paid them bonuses as if they were independent contractors.

"The smorgasbord of benefits is designed to keep its top executives happy and loyal," prosecutor Joshua Steinglass told jurors during his closing argument on Friday.

The Trump Organisation also faces a fraud lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Ms Trump is being investigated by the US Department of Justice over his handling of sensitive government documents after he left office in January 2021, and attempts to overturn the November 2020 election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

Weisselberg, 75, testified as the government's star witness as part of a plea deal with prosecutors that will allow him to spend no more than five months in jail.

The Trump Organisation said Weisselberg carried out the scheme to benefit himself. He is on paid leave from the company and testified that he received more than $1 million in salary and bonus payments this year.

"The question here is not whether as a byproduct the company saved some money," Susan Necheles, a defence lawyer, said in her closing argument on Thursday.

"(Weisselberg's) intent was to benefit himself, not the company."

Mr Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform on November 19 that his family received "no economic gain from the acts done by the executive".

Mr Trump, who on November15 announced his third campaign for the presidency, has called the investigation a politically motivated "witch hunt".

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and his predecessor who brought the charges, Cyrus Vance, are Democrats.

Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty in August to concealing $1.76 million in income from tax authorities, testified that Mr Trump signed the Christmas bonus cheques and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in private school tuition for Weisselberg's grandchildren.

He also said Mr Trump's two sons — who took over the company's operations in 2017 after he became president — gave him a raise after they knew about his tax dodge scheme.

"The whole narrative that Donald Trump was blissfully ignorant is just not real," Mr Steinglass said.

The Trump Organisation also said Donald Bender, an outside accountant, should have caught and blown the whistle on Weisselberg's fraud.

The company called Mr Bender as its main witness, but his testimony appeared to backfire when he said he trusted that the information Weisselberg gave him was accurate and that he was under no obligation to investigate further.

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Updated: December 07, 2022, 6:37 AM