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Following a deluge of bombshell news about Donald Trump-related criminal investigations in New York, including the Manhattan district attorney’s convening of a special grand jury, more details have emerged that might suggest intensifying legal woes for one of the former president’s business lieutenants.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the Manhattan district attorney’s office has apparently “entered the final stages of a criminal tax investigation” of Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer.
The report that prosecutors might be nearing the final stages of their criminal tax inquiry into Weisselberg comes in the wake of reports that Jeff McConney – a senior vice-president and controller for the Trump Organization – has testified before the Manhattan special grand jury.
McConney, “one of the most senior officials” in this company, is also the first Trump Organization staffer called to testify – and is one of “a number of witnesses” who have been before the panel, ABC reported.
McConney’s role as the Trump Organization’s money man could have dramatic implications for an investigation into possible financial crimes at the sprawling business empire. The special grand jury convened by the Manhattan district attorney’s office is expected to decide whether to indict Trump, other executives at his company or the business itself if presented with criminal charges by prosecutors.
The investigation is broad and relates to Trump’s business affairs predating his presidency. The inquiry is examining whether the value of some property in his company’s real estate portfolio was presented in a way that defrauded insurance companies and banks. The investigation is also trying to determine whether sketchy property valuations might have led to unlawful tax breaks, according to the Washington Post.
With Weisselberg, the Manhattan district attorney’s office is reportedly probing whether he received any “fringe benefits” from the company on top of his salary, and if said benefits were taxed adequately.
Although Trump and Weisselberg were usually the “only two people in the room”, when prepping tax paperwork and other financial documents, McConney brought them the “original documents and tranches of raw data”, the Daily Beast reported. So, McConney might have financial information that could potentially be used against Weisselberg or Trump.
Weisselberg’s attorney said “no comment” when asked about the inquiry and Times report.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment.
Longtime defense attorneys told the Guardian that such revelations about grand jury witness testimony might give clues about prosecutors’ strategy and thoughts about potential wrongdoing. When prosecutors start calling witnesses before grand juries, it typically means the investigation has hit the stage where prosecutors feel they have a criminal case against someone.
Daniel R Alonso, a partner at Buckley LLP’s New York office whose past work includes serving as chief assistant district attorney with the Manhattan district attorney, said: “You’ve got to start with the proposition that it’s pretty clear they’re targeting Allen Weisselberg, the CFO. If that’s correct, which it seems to be, it’s an obvious move to get the testimony of the controller on record.
“It appears from the reporting that he’s getting immunity,” Alonso said of McConney. “They either don’t think that he has criminal exposure or if he does, they’re more interested in getting people higher up on the food chain if they can.”
And because a controller has daily interaction with a CFO, “there are undoubtedly lots and lots of questions that the [district attorney] has asked him, or will ask him, or lots and lots of documents that they can show him that will make it difficult for him to feign a lack of memory,” Alonso also said.
McConney did not respond to an email request for comment.
Rebecca Roiphe, a former prosecutor with the Manhattan district attorney’s office who now works as a professor at New York Law School, explained that in New York state courts, a witness called before the grand jury can’t be prosecuted for what they testify about.
“You really don’t want to use the grand jury, at least in terms of calling witnesses, at an early stage of your investigation because you don’t want to have to accidentally give somebody immunity,” Roiphe said.
So, if prosecutors are calling witnesses before a grand jury, they have a strong sense of who they want to prosecute – they are not just calling people in a way that could jeopardize a case.
“They must have a sense that they have a criminal case against somebody, because of the grand jury practice of New York,” Roiphe said.
“It seems that it’s a more advanced investigation. It’s not just the detectives and prosecutors thinking in theory about an investigation – they’re actively interviewing witnesses and putting a possible indictment together,” said Jeffrey Lichtman, a longtime criminal defense attorney.
“They don’t just call these people out of the blue.”
There appears to be no shortage of high-profile figures willing to discuss Trump, his businesses, or his cronies.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer, has met with prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney’s office. They have reportedly asked Cohen questions about Trump’s business activities. Cohen pleaded guilty to tax evasion, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress.
Jennifer Weisselberg, Allen Weisselberg’s former daughter-in-law, has provided investigators with extensive tax records and other financial documents. A representative for Jennifer Weisselberg said: “She is still being considered as a potential witness and she’s been in conversation with the district attorney about her information and her potential [grand jury] testimony if necessary.”
The adult film star Stormy Daniels – who claimed to have had sex with Trump about 12 or so years ago, and received $130,000 in hush money during the 2016 presidential race not to discuss the alleged affair – said she would readily testify before a grand jury.
“I would love nothing more than my day in court and to give a deposition and to provide whatever evidence that they need from me,” Daniels reportedly said.
Trump has claimed he did not have a sexual liaison with Daniels.
Trump’s attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.