NEW YORK — The Trump Organization’s longtime finance chief told jurors Tuesday he saved Donald Trump‘s company hundreds of thousands of dollars by scheming to evade taxes on company-paid perks, including a Manhattan apartment and luxury cars.
Allen Weisselberg, making his long-awaited turn as the prosecution’s star witness, said he deducted the cost of the extras from his salary because doing so cost the company about half as much as it would have to give him a raise to cover those expenses.
Weisselberg pleaded guilty in August to evading taxes on $1.7 million of fringe benefits. His plea agreement requires him to testify against the company in exchange for a five-month jail sentence.
In his testimony, Weisselberg portrayed Trump as a hands-on executive prior to his election to the White House in 2016 but did not implicate him in any wrongdoing.
He said Trump encouraged him to move into a company-paid apartment in 2005 and signed off on a lease for the property. He also said Trump authorized him and his wife to receive Mercedes-Benz cars, the leases for which were paid by the Trump Organization.
Weisselberg, a senior adviser and former chief financial officer at the company, has intimate knowledge of its financial dealings from his nearly five decades working there. But he is not expected to implicate Trump or any members of the Trump family in his testimony.
Weisselberg will remain free on bail until he is formally sentenced following the company’s trial.
The Trump Organization, the entity through which the former president manages his real estate holdings, marketing deals and other ventures, is accused of helping some top executives avoid paying income taxes on compensation they got in addition to their salaries over a 15-year span.
Prosecutors argue that the Trump Organization — through its subsidiaries Trump Corp. and Trump Payroll Corp. — is liable for the scheme because Weisselberg, the longtime finance chief, was a “high managerial agent” entrusted to act on behalf of the company and its various entities.
In pleading guilty, the 75-year-old Weisselberg pinned blame on himself and other top company executives, including senior vice president and controller Jeffrey McConney, who testified for the trial’s first five days.
The Trump Organization has denied wrongdoing. Its lawyers allege that Weisselberg concocted the scheme on his own, without Trump’s or the Trump family’s knowledge, and say the company didn’t benefit from his actions. If convicted, the company could be fined more than $1 million.
The company’s lawyers spent part of Monday and Tuesday’s court sessions attempting to preempt Weisselberg’s testimony, using their cross-examination questioning to underscore their assertion that others at the company, including Trump, knew nothing about the scheme.
The first two prosecution witnesses — McConney and company accounts payable supervisor Deborah Tarasoff — portrayed Weisselberg as a rogue agent who stressed secrecy about his various financial arrangements.
Both witnesses worked under Weisselberg and testified that they aided him in hiding benefits, telling jurors that they were just following orders. Tarasoff agreed with a defense lawyer’s description of Weisselberg as an exacting, authoritarian but deeply trusted micromanager.
Tarasoff said she prepared company checks for Weisselberg to pay his apartment rent and car lease payments. She said she prepared checks from Trump’s private account to pay tuition for private schooling for Weisselberg’s grandchildren.
In September 2016, as Trump’s presidential election neared, Tarasoff said Weisselberg ordered her to start deleting notations about some of the transactions in the company’s bookkeeping system. Tarasoff said she didn’t think Weisselberg was asking her to do anything illegal. But even if he had, she said: “I guess I would because he’s the boss and he told me to do it.”
Weisselberg is the only person to face criminal charges so far in the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation of the company.
Weisselberg started working for the company in 1973, when it was run by Trump’s father, Fred. Following his July 2021 arrest, the company changed his title from CFO to senior adviser. The CFO position remains vacant.
Prosecutors alleged that the Trump Organization gave untaxed fringe benefits to senior executives, including Weisselberg, for 15 years. Weisselberg alone was accused of defrauding the federal government, state and city out of more than $900,000 in unpaid taxes and undeserved tax refunds.