NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s longtime finance chief choked up on the witness stand Thursday, saying he betrayed the Trump family’s trust by dodging taxes on $1.7 million in benefits paid by the company, including a Manhattan apartment and luxury cars.
Allen Weiselberg, a senior adviser and former chief financial officer at the Trump Organization, the former president’s family business, said he conspired with a subordinate to hide more than a decade’s worth of additions to his taxable income, but that neither Trump nor the family they participated.
From the archives (August 2022): Trump Company CFO Allen Weisselberg pleads guilty in tax evasion case — but doesn’t implicate former President Trump
See also (February 2022): The Trump Organization’s accounting firm rejects years of financial statements
The Trump Organization is now on trial, accused of helping Weiselberg and other executives avoid paying income taxes on compensation other than their salaries.
Prosecutors argue the company is liable because Weisselberg was a “senior managerial agent” assigned to act on its behalf.
I see: The Trump Organization’s longtime CFO describes how he planned to evade taxes
Also: Trump Organization Executive Says He Was Afraid He’d Be Fired If He Talked About Tax Evasion
And: Trump Organization executive says he helped colleagues avoid taxes
“It was my personal greed that led to this,” said Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty to tax crimes and agreed to testify against the company in exchange for a five-month prison sentence.
Asked if he was ashamed of what he had done, a somber Weiselberg said: “More than you can imagine.”
His emotional testimony came on his second day as the prosecution’s star, as a lawyer for the company reminded him during cross-examination of the Trump family’s decades-long faith in him.
Weiselberg began working for Trump’s father in 1973 and joined Trump as an executive at the then-fledgling Trump Organization in 1986. He wielded enormous power as the company, boosted by Trump’s celebrity, grew from a modest New York developer to a global golf. hotel and real estate empire.
Weiselberg also recalled helping Trump through the company’s darkest moments in the early 1990s, including casino bankruptcies and the failure of the Trump Shuttle airline. He recalled watching Trump’s three oldest children — Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric — grow up before his eyes, admitting they were “some of the most trusted people they knew.”
The Trump Organization denies wrongdoing. The company could be fined more than $1 million if convicted, but a guilty verdict could also hamper its ability to get loans and make deals and lead to efforts by governments, such as New York City, to cancel contracts with Trump entities.
The Trump Organization continues to employ Weiselberg, paying his regular salary of $640,000 even after he was put on leave last month. In court, however, the company’s lawyers portrayed him as a loyal lieutenant who went rogue and concocted the tax evasion scheme on his own without Trump or the Trump family’s knowledge.
Some of Weisselberg’s testimony seemed to underscore this point. But the 75-year-old executive denied the defense’s claim that his plan also did not help the company’s performance. He also described another financial arrangement, involving vacation bonuses, that had saved the company money for years.
Weiselberg testified that he conspired to hide his benefits with the company’s senior vice president and controller, Jeffrey McConney, by falsifying payroll records to deduct their costs from his salary. The deal reduced Weisselberg’s tax liability while also saving the company money because it didn’t have to give him a big raise to cover the cost of the benefits and additional income taxes he would have incurred.
“I didn’t do an analysis, but I knew there was a benefit to the company,” Weisselberg said. “I knew in my head that there was a benefit to the company.”
The company’s CEO, Matthew Calamari Sr., also took a pay cut to offset the cost of a company-paid apartment and cars for him and his wife, but Weisselberg denied there was a conflict. He said he had no knowledge or involvement in what Calamari was doing.
Calamari has not been charged with a crime. McConney, who was granted immunity, testified during the first five days of the trial in Manhattan state court.
Weiselberg told jurors that Trump signed the lease on his apartment and, until he became president in 2017, personally paid private school tuition for his two grandchildren.
The company, however, had a long-standing practice of avoiding taxes on the lucrative Christmas bonuses Trump doled out each year to his company’s executives.
Weisselberg said the company has reduced taxes for decades by pulling some of Trump’s signature bonus checks from affiliate entities and paying executives as independent contractors, allowing the company to avoid payroll taxes and the affiliates to deduct the bonuses as expenses.
Weiselberg said the practice began before he started at the Trump Organization and was abandoned only after a tax attorney audited the company’s pay practices once Trump became president in 2017.
From the archives (July 2021): Trump Organization CFO Weiselberg surrenders early Thursday in a lower Manhattan court
Trump “always wanted to sign the bonus checks,” Weisselberg said — applying his distinct, seismographic signature to a stack of 70 or more addressed to key company officials, including Weisselberg and Calamari.
The checks would then be stuffed into Christmas cards, also signed by Trump, who handed them out like Santa Claus to executives around the building.
The Trump Organization switched to paying executive bonuses entirely as taxable employee income once Trump entered the White House.
“We were going through a whole cleaning process in the company. With Mr. Trump now president, we wanted to make sure everything was done right,” Weiselberg said.
Read it (April 2022): Manhattan DA Bragg says Trump criminal probe continues despite top prosecutor departures