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NEW YORK — Allen Weisselberg, the financial sentry at the Trump Organization now in the crosshairs of prosecutors diving into Donald Trump’s business dealings, frankly claims he steers clear of the “legal side” of the money flow.
In previously unreported deposition documents obtained by the New York Daily News, Weisselberg, who has micromanaged the organization’s finances for decades, shrugged off interest in or knowledge of the legalities of Trump’s till. “That’s not my thing,” he declared.
It’s very much the thing of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr., who recently used a grand jury subpoena to seize boxes of documents from Weisselberg’s estranged ex-daughter-in-law, and of New York Attorney General Letitia James, who’s doing a civil investigation into Trump’s alleged asset inflation and deflation.
Weisselberg’s testimony during the June 2015 deposition tied to lawsuits over the now-defunct Trump University offers a rare look at the longtime bean counter — a tight-lipped and low-profile money man who’s been with the Trump Organization since it was run by Fred Trump, and who was once described by Donald Trump in 2004 as a guy who “knows how to get things done.” Weisselberg may also be the only person who truly knows how much the former president is worth.
In one potentially pivotal piece of information, Weisselberg said his tendency to micromanage had its limits when legal matters were involved, at least in 2015.
Asked about the time he found himself “eavesdropping” on a discussion among Trump lawyers about the alleged illegality of marketing Trump’s for-profit school as a “university” in New York, Weisselberg said he didn’t delve deeper.
He admitted asking in a 2005 email if executives planned to “just set up a fictitious office in Illinois/Delaware” as they dealt with the issue, but he said his inquiry centered exclusively on cost, not propriety.
“I can’t help them with that role. That’s not my thing,” he testified. “I was only concerned about the economic side of it. They were handling the legal side of it.”
He meticulously protected his own role as financial guardian, the deposition showed.
“Throughout all of our entities, people do know it’s important to involve me when it comes to financial matters because later on if things don’t prove out to be where they should be, they’ll have to deal with me on answering the question as to why,” he testified. “So they — they — they know the protocol.”
Weisselberg was also candid about his own handsome income, admitting has salary had been around $450,000 “a long time,” adding that he also received an annual bonus ranging “anywhere from 200 (thousand dollars) to $400,000 a year.”
He said he voluntarily suggested his bonus be reduced to about $300,000 around the time of the 2008 financial crash, but only because he already felt adequately compensated.
“I wanted to set an example for my company,” he said. “My kids are grown and I don’t have the same needs I had many years ago. So I was fine with what I was making. I had no problem with it.”
On the topic of his schedule, Weisselberg revealed he willingly worked almost around the clock.
“I take no vacations. That’s not even funny. My wife doesn’t laugh at all. I don’t. I just — I work a lot, and pretty much I — I’m in work all the time,” he said.
Weisselberg testified he started working for Fred Trump, Trump’s father, in Brooklyn in 1973 after earning an accounting degree from Pace College and holding a few other prior jobs, including one teaching high school.
He eventually started moonlighting for Donald, helping with the accounting for the Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan and with ground leases in Atlantic City.
“I was doing a lot of Donald’s work on weekends or at — or at night. And that’s what eventually led me to leave Fred in 1986 and move into Manhattan to work for Donald,” he said.
He started as the controller for the future president and later became Trump’s CFO, calling himself a “stickler” for details who worked on the same floor as his boss in Trump Tower and talked to him almost daily.
“Am I his eyes and ears for his investments? From an economic standpoint,” he said of Trump.
Weisselberg grew up with a younger sister in Brownsville, Brooklyn, attended Thomas Jefferson High School where he served on the Student Patrol and majored in finance and accounting at Pace to fulfill the dream of becoming an “accountant” listed in his 1965 senior class yearbook.
“I liked Allen. He was part of our friend group. We had like a whole three-square-block group with most of us in the same grade. We played corner ball and stick ball and went over to his house sometimes,” friend Michael Hasson, 73, told The News. “I had no problems with his character. He was an honest person.”
But the apparent willingness of the straight-arrow custodian of the Trump Organization finances to simply trust his boss may be an issue now that the top Trump officer is himself the subject of a grand jury subpoena, which was first reported by The New York Times.
Vance has gone all the way to the Supreme Court to get Trump’s tax returns, and he reportedly wants to know if the one-term president manipulated his books to obtain favorable tax benefits or loans.
A subpoena served earlier this month on Weisselberg’s ex-daughter-in-law Jennifer Weisselberg was for banking and tax records linked to Weisselberg’s eldest son, Barry, who manages the Trump Organization’s mostly cash Wollman and Lasker skating rinks in Central Park and a vintage carousel.
Barry, 45, and Jennifer, 49, have been embroiled in a bitter divorce and custody battle the last few years, and prosecutors seem interested to know if the the couple’s finances might show a pattern of how Trump, or even Allen, handled accounting issues.
During Barry’s August 2018 divorce deposition, he told a lawyer the couple lived rent-free in a “corporate apartment” overlooking Central Park from 2005 through 2012, documents obtained by The News show. Jennifer said she thought the apartment was a wedding gift from the Trump Organization.
The elder Weisselberg also paid for his grandkids’ tuition fees at the elite Columbia Grammar and Prep, running $49,000 per child annually, as well as annual sleepaway camp fees of $25,000 and Hebrew school tuition of $2,200, the legal paperwork states.
Barry said there was never an expectation to pay his father back, describing the largess as “financial assistance.”
The elder son said he did personally cover the cost of his 175-pair sneaker collection, but even those were discounted by the Trump Organization as the NikeTown store where he shopped was located in Trump Tower on 57th Street.
“It was within the company’s building and my father got a discount as well as I did. When they shut down, I stopped purchasing. I wasn’t paying full price for sneakers,” he testified.
Weisselberg’s other son, Jack, 43, works at Ladder Capital, a real estate investment trust that’s been one of the Trump Organization’s biggest creditors in recent years.
The Weisselbergs have not been accused of any criminal wrongdoing, but outsiders say the focus on the high-ranking Trump gatekeeper’s personal records and his relatives could be a play to get him to flip.
If Barry and Jennifer failed to declare their “corporate apartment” as compensation after their wedding, Vance’s office could use the oversight to put pressure on Allen to cooperate.
“It looks to me like they’re trying to get him through his kids,” Barbara Res, a former executive vice president in charge of development and construction at the Trump Organization, told The News.
Allen’s former school friend Hasson said he was shocked to see his friend’s name in the news when former Trump fixer Michael Cohen accused Weisselberg of helping him mask the money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep her from talking in 2016 about her alleged affair with Trump.
“It was surprising when I saw it on TV,” he said. “Some of our friends were getting in touch with everybody, but they couldn’t get in touch with Allen. I guess he was incommunicado with all the problems.”
Vance’s investigation actually started with the hush-money payments made to Daniels and another woman who also claimed an affair with Trump.
Cohen told Congress he personally paid Daniels on Trump’s behalf and that it was Weisselberg who “made the decision” that he should be repaid over 12 months “so that it would look like a retainer.”
The lawyer, now a convicted felon in the case, showed lawmakers a copy of one of the $35,000 checks signed by both Weisselberg and Donald Trump Jr. that he said represented part of his repayment.
Weisselberg cut a partial immunity deal to talk to prosecutors in 2018 about the paramour payments, a signal he didn’t speak willingly and may have been concerned about possible criminal liability.
A lawyer for Weisselberg replied with a “no comment” when contacted by The News about this article.
A longtime neighbor who lives next to the humble house where Weisselberg and his wife raised their sons in Wantagh, Long Island, said he knew the Trump executive as a workaholic.
“He always took the 6 o’clock train in the morning, and I’d see him coming home late too. He was very dedicated,” neighbor Michael McQuillan, 66, said. “He would be up here during the winter by himself while his wife would be down in Florida.”
Despite the intense hours, Weisselberg was still a devoted dad, the neighbor said.
“They didn’t move from the neighborhood when they could have. They stayed because they felt their kids were grounded here,” McQuillan said. “Allen could have built a pool at his house, but he felt the neighborhood pool was great for his kids growing up, for the community it fostered. It was like Mayberry here, with everyone watching out for everyone.”
Res, who got to know Weisselberg during her Trump Organization tenure from 1980 to 1991 and then later when she worked as a consultant for the firm, described Weisselberg as “quiet and extremely deferential” to Donald Trump.
“He called him Mr. Trump when the rest of us called him Donald,” Res, who supervised the construction of Trump Tower, told The News.
“He thought Trump was a god,” she said. “He drank the Kool-Aid.”
Res, who wrote the recent book “Tower of Lies: What My Eighteen Years of Working With Donald Trump Reveals About Him,” said even though Weisselberg showed unflagging fealty in the office, she’s not convinced he would protect Trump at all costs, especially if one of his own family members were at risk.
“I don’t believe he would commit perjury,” she said. “I didn’t know him to be that kind of guy.”