The Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, have been charged with a “sweeping and audacious illegal payment scheme” of tax-related crimes, marking the first criminal charges against former US president Donald Trump’s company following a years-long investigation by New York prosecutors.
Weisselberg, who has worked for the Trump family for nearly 50 years, surrendered to the authorities at the Manhattan criminal courthouse at 6.20am on Thursday and was charged by the Manhattan district attorney with failing to properly report company perks, including rent-free apartments, school fees and cars, in the latest stage of an escalating battle between New York prosecutors and Trump.
The 15-count indictment against Weisselberg and the Trump Organization charged them with a scheme to defraud, grand larceny, criminal tax fraud and falsifying business records.
According to prosecutors the Trump Organization paid employees rent, utility bills, garage fees, school expenses and other living expenses without properly declaring them “so that they could and did pay federal, state and local taxes in amounts that were significantly less than the amounts that should have been paid.”
Carey Dunne, general counsel for the Manhattan district attorney, said the 15-year-long arrangement was “a sweeping and audacious illegal payments scheme.”
The scheme was “orchestrated by the most senior executives” at the Trump Organization, according to prosecutors, and Weisselberg was “one of the largest individual beneficiaries” of the scheme. He received $1.7m in illegal payments, according to the prosecutors, including rent, bills and garage fees for his Manhattan apartment and tuition expenses for Weisselberg’s family members.
Weisselberg and a lawyer for the Trump Organization pleaded not guilty.
While no charges were brought against Trump personally, the move still marks an extraordinary turning point for the former president and more are likely to follow.
The charges are a severe blow to the Trump Organization, which may now find it more difficult to raise money as the case continues. They also pose a challenge to Trump’s apparent political ambitions. The former president has begun a series of campaign-style rallies and is positioning himself for another run at the presidency in 2024.