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Manhattan prosecutors on Thursday charged the Trump Organization and its CFO with 15 felony counts.
The charges against them included scheme to defraud, conspiracy, and grand larceny.
The organization and the CFO, Allen Weisselberg, pleaded not guilty.
A highly anticipated criminal indictment on Thursday charged the Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, with 15 felony counts including scheme to defraud, conspiracy, and grand larceny.
These were the 15 counts:
One count of scheme to defraud in the first degree.
One count of conspiracy in the fourth degree.
One count of grand larceny in the second degree.
Four counts of criminal tax fraud in the third degree.
Four counts of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree.
Four counts of falsifying business records in the first degree.
Prosecutors said the alleged criminal conduct was carried out as part of a "sweeping and audacious payment scheme" and that Weisselberg personally did not pay taxes on $1.7 million of his income dating back to March 2005.
Weisselberg and the Trump Organization pleaded not guilty to the charges, which were laid out in a 25-page indictment. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and New York Attorney General Letitia James, who joined forces for the case, sat in the front row at the hearing.
Weisselberg arrived in handcuffs while wearing a mask and was flanked by two assistant DAs. One of his attorneys, Mary Mulligan, briefly conferred with Mark Pomerantz, a prosecutor on Vance's team, before the hearing began.
Thursday's were the first charges to come out of a three-year investigation into whether former President Donald Trump's sprawling real-estate company broke state laws and engaged in financial fraud.
Investigators accused the defendants of filing false tax returns and accused them and others of having "devised and operated a scheme to defraud federal, New York State, and New York City tax authorities" to compensate Weisselberg and other Trump Organization executives "off the books."
The indictment said Weisselberg had claimed that he was not a New York City resident and therefore did not pay city taxes. And it alleged that Trump had personally signed tuition checks for Weisselberg's family members.
Trump himself described Vance, a centrist, as "radical left" in a statement Thursday and falsely implied more than 75 million people voted for him. The Trump Organization criticized Vance for the resources put into the investigation, and said it was politically motivated.
In court on Thursday afternoon, Carey Dunne, a top deputy for Vance, blasted Trump for downplaying the charges.
"This was a 15-year-long tax fraud scheme," he said. "Contrary to a statement from the former CEO, this was not a standard tax plan."
Prosecutors urged the court not to grant any leniency, saying Weisselberg and the company had fought them at every turn, refused to cooperate with subpoenas, and barred employees from speaking with investigators unless it was before the grand jury.
"There is no clearer example of a company that should be held to account," Dunne said, adding that contrary to Trump's claims of politicization, the grand jury was unbiased and had no skin in the game.
Prosecutors confiscated Weisselberg's passport, saying that he's wealthy and has access to a private jet. The judge permitted him to be released after he handed over his passport. Investigators gave Weisselberg's attorneys a hard drive full of discovery material, and the judge set a September court date to discuss the status of the case.
Trump himself was not charged in the indictment, though the investigation is ongoing. Prosecutors have empaneled a special grand jury that is expected to meet through November and weigh whether to bring charges.
Weisselberg has long been a key figure for prosecutors given his status as the Trump family's chief bookkeeper and a close confidant of Trump. He had surrendered to the Manhattan DA earlier Thursday.
The investigation kicked into high gear in February, when the Supreme Court cleared the way for prosecutors to obtain eight years of Trump's taxes. Investigators began circling Weisselberg in earnest earlier this year and secured the cooperation of his former daughter-in-law, Jennifer.
Allen Weisselberg appeared to rebuff prosecutors' attempts to secure his cooperation. Legal experts have said that given his vast knowledge of the Trump Organization's finances, he could help guide jurors through the vast number of documents prosecutors have already subpoenaed in the case.
Last week, when it surfaced that Weisselberg and the Trump Organization could soon face criminal charges, the company's lawyer Ron Fischetti told NBC News that the investigation was "outrageous," adding that the "corporate office will plead not guilty and we will make an immediate motion to dismiss the case against the corporation."
"They could not get Allen Weisselberg to cooperate and tell them what they wanted to hear, and that's why they are going forward with these charges," he said. "They could not get him to cooperate because he would not say that Donald Trump had knowledge or any information that he may have been not deducting properly the use of cars or an apartment."
Hush-money payments, manipulated property values, and tax-free benefits
The CFO gained national attention when Michael Cohen, Trump's former longtime lawyer and fixer, testified that he'd helped coordinate an illegal hush-money payment to the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election in exchange for her silence about her claims of an affair with Trump in the mid-2000s.
Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to campaign-finance violations, tax evasion, and bank fraud in connection with the payment. He told prosecutors and later testified to Congress that he'd committed his crimes "for the benefit of, at the direction of, and in coordination" with Trump. He also said he and Weisselberg were both in Trump's office when Trump "directed us to go back to Weisselberg's office and figure this all out," referring to the $130,000 payment.
Cohen went on to implicate Weisselberg and Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., in a criminal conspiracy of "financial fraud."
Vance subsequently opened a state criminal investigation into whether the Trump Organization had violated New York laws in connection with the payment. The inquiry ballooned to examine whether the company had artificially inflated or deflated the value of its assets for loan and tax purposes and whether it violated banking and insurance laws by doing so.
Prosecutors have pressured Weisselberg's family members in their attempts to flip him. Jennifer Weisselberg told Insider she'd given investigators boxes of documents from her messy divorce with Barry Weisselberg. She said they showed evidence of the couple receiving fringe benefits from the Trump Organization - like housing and tuition payments for their children - without properly paying taxes on them.
The hard evidence that prosecutors seek in financial-crime cases typically lies in tax filings, real-estate documents, and corporate records. But legal experts have said that having a witness familiar with these dealings such as Weisselberg cooperate with investigators about his role and Trump's would strengthen their case to jurors.
Prosecutors have also examined whether Matthew Calamari, the Trump Organization's chief operating officer, and his son Matthew Calamari Jr., the company's head of security, accepted similar perks without paying taxes on them.
Nicholas Gravante Jr., an attorney representing both Calamaris, had told Insider that he did not expect charges against his clients this week.
"Although the DA's investigation obviously is ongoing, I do not expect charges to be filed against either of my clients at this time," he said.
The indictments will shape the legacy of Vance, who's set to leave office at the end of the year after a 12-year run as DA.
The prosecutor came under scrutiny following revelations that he'd declined to charge Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. in 2012, over allegations that involved misleading prospective condo buyers, while accepting a campaign donation from their attorney.
Read the original article on Business Insider