The longtime chief financial officer of Donald Trump’s company pleaded guilty to 15 felony charges relating to a tax fraud scheme he carried out in his role at the Trump Organization. Allen Weisselberg, 76, who served Trump for decades as a bookkeeper, accountant, and eventually CFO of the Trump Organization, admitted in court on Thursday that he deliberately manipulated the company books and lied on his tax returns in an effort to hide more than $1.7 million in extra compensation. The extra income came in the form of a raft of luxurious perks—the Trump Organization paid his rent, leased him a car, and even paid for his grandchildren to attend a tony private school in New York City.
Although Weissleberg oversaw the financial books of the Trump Organization, and in his plea guilty acknowledged he had altered corporate financial records, the whole case still points ominously in the direction of Trump himself as all of the money Weisselberg received flowed from the closely-held network of companies that are almost without exception owned by Trump. The Trump Organization was indicted last summer in tandem with Weisselberg, and prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney’s office expect to take that case to trial in October.
Weisselberg faced as much as 15 years in prison, but thanks to his guilty plea today, he will likely spend no more than 100 days in jail (factoring in good behavior)—but he will serve the term in New York City’s notorious Riker’s Island not a state prison. Then-Manhattan district attorney Cy Vance indicted Weisselberg last summer as part of an ongoing investigation into Trump, presumably hoping to pressure Weisselberg to turn on his boss, but the accountant has adamantly refused to play ball—or even humor them the D.A.’s office with a meeting.
Prosecutors said that Weisselberg will have to repay more than $1.9 million in back taxes, interest, and penalties, and that they will recommend serve 5 to 15 years in prison if he fails to testify truthfully at the upcoming Trump Organization trial.
In court on Thursday, Weisselberg spoke quietly, repeating “Yes, your honor,” as New York Superior Court judge Juan Merchan walked him through a detailed recounting of the various crimes he has now admitted to. He pleaded guilty to everything prosecutors had leveled against him and waived any right to appeal. In the course of his guilty plea on Thursday, Weisselberg agreed that many of his crimes were directly in coordination and cooperation with the Trump Organization and its various entities—a fairly damning series of statements that previews the testimony he might offer at trial. However, Weisselberg fingered only one other individual at the Trump Organization, a longtime accountant named Jeffrey S. McConney, who testified before a grand jury in the matter and apparently took much of the blame for the tax avoidance scheme. McConney has not been charged with any crime.
But even as the plea deal falls short of touching Trump personally, Weisselberg’s testimony against the Trump Organization is still highly damaging. There is no distance between Trump and the corporate entity that carries his name. He personally owns nearly 100 percent of every one of the hundreds of LLCs and entities the Trump Organization encompasses. For most financial and legal purposes, the Trump Organization is Donald Trump.
Following his plea, Weisselberg, walked out of the courtroom without acknowledging reporter’s questions, and he and his attorneys exited court house. In a statement, his attorney Nicholas Gravante Jr. suggested the plea was nothing more than an attempt by Weisselberg to essentially cut to the chase and get everything over with.
“In one of the most difficult decisions of his life, Mr. Weisselberg decided to enter a plea of guilty today to put an end to this case and the years-long legal and personal nightmares it has caused for him and his family,” Gravante said. “Rather than risk the possibility of 15 years in prison, he has agreed to serve 100 days. We are glad to have this behind him.”
Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, who inherited the case filed last summer by his predecessor Vance, was absent from court (Vance attended Weisselberg’s arraignment last year), but said in a statement that the plea agreement was damning for the Trump Organization.
“Today Allen Weisselberg admitted in court that he used his position at the Trump Organization to bilk taxpayers and enrich himself,” Bragg said. “This plea agreement directly implicates the Trump Organization in a wide range of criminal activity and requires Weisselberg to provide invaluable testimony in the upcoming trial against the corporation.”
*This is a developing story.