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Prosecutors accused Trump’s company and CFO Allen Weisselberg of hiding around $ 1.7 million in perks and cash bonuses for Weisselberg, his family members and other Trump employees. Weißelberg and the Trump Organization have pleaded not guilty.
Wittes said the behavior described was egregious and clearly merited criminal prosecution, but was surprised that prosecutors had not yet surfaced charges related to the Trump company’s dealings with banks, insurance companies, or the company’s own wealth and income tax bills were.
Other legal experts advised patience, saying the indictment was part of a methodical process to build a larger case that could very well include direct indictments against Trump.
“Prediction: The charges brought in Manhattan today are the tip of the iceberg,” said Andrew Weissmann, former assistant to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. wrote on Twitter. “Note that the DA protection order request will be issued to keep the discovery near the vest while the investigation continues.”
When asked about expectations for a broader case in which the company will face tax, insurance and banking fraud charges related to its business deals, Weissmann said he believes such charges are still pending.
“This is not a sign that they haven’t found anything there and that part of the case is over,” he told POLITICO. “To me it reads like this: When you have this part of the case done, why hesitate? They also send a message to other involved that they are not afraid to bring charges. “
Many lawyers said the lawsuit does not reflect all of the evidence prosecutors have against the Trump Organization or Trump, but rather everything they think they can prove against 73-year-old Weißelberg.
“It is safe to say that the prosecutors did not start their investigation into Donald Trump to refute an ancillary conspiracy that amounted to significant amounts of dollars but a relatively small amount of money in the context of the Trump organization,” said Jeremy Saland. a former attorney in the Manhattan Attorney’s Office.
The 15 charges, which theoretically mean up to 80 years in prison, could convince Weisselberg to tell the prosecutor what he has known about Trump’s involvement in the prosecutor’s other tax, insurance and bank fraud matters for the past two years. Weißelberg’s attorneys alleged that he vigorously denied the allegations, which they described as politically motivated.
Attempts to flip witnesses to incriminate senior managers are common in criminal investigations, although some lawyers said aspects of this week’s indictment were unusual.
Trump Organization attorneys argued that government criminal charges against a company for the sums at issue in the indictment – about $ 1.7 million in allegedly unreported earnings for Weißelberg over 15 years – are unknown. As a result, prosecutors claim the Trump Organization’s CFO underpaid his federal income tax by about $ 556,000, state tax by about $ 107,000, and New York City taxes by about $ 238,000.
“The prosecution or even the IRS has never before criminally indicted a company for employee benefits,” the Trump organization said in a statement on Thursday. “Everyday New Yorkers and Americans know exactly what this is: improper use of the vast and uncontrolled power of a local prosecutor to target a political opponent.”
However, some experts said the suite of unreported tax-free benefits described in the indictment, including private schooling, apartment rentals, and Mercedes lease payments, make allegations against the Trump Organization more devastating than a garden cultivar case. They also took note of allegations that Weisselberg and others took deliberate steps to cover up the perks and benefits.
“I would say it’s reasonable, sincere law enforcement in the sense that they conducted rude, problematic transactions that you can’t allow within a tax system, or your tax system is collapsing,” said Philip Hackney, a University of Pittsburgh Law School professor who previously worked in the Office of the Chief Counsel at the IRS. “If you find things like this, I think you must do something about it. And some kind of charge makes sense to me. “
One of the prosecutors in the case said in court Thursday that the Trump organization’s public claims about the charges were misleading.
Assistant District Attorney Carey Dunne described the alleged “off-the-book” payment system as “a type of crime that is constantly being charged against companies and executives”.
Referring to Trump, without naming his name, Dunne added, “Contrary to what the company’s former CEO claims today, this is not ‘standard business practice’, nor was it the act of a rogue or isolated employee.”
While the sums involved in the case seem small compared to the bonuses paid to individual Wall Street bankers in a given year, Hackney said the blatant nature of the Trump organization’s alleged plan required action.
“That’s pretty monstrous stuff,” Hackney said. “A lot of money was avoided at Weißelberg.”
Some experts also noted another peculiarity of the DA case: the IRS is portrayed as a victim. In fact, the most serious allegation against Weißelberg – with a possible 15-year prison term – is that he stole more than half a million dollars from the federal government for failing to properly pay his taxes.
However, to date there has been no public evidence that the IRS has sued him, let alone initiated federal criminal proceedings, over this money.
Hackney said the allegedly unreported revenue may have simply disappeared under the federal authorities’ radar.
“The IRS doesn’t check that many people, so it’s possible the IRS just missed all of this,” he said.