NEW YORK: Donald Trump’s real estate company was convicted on Tuesday of carrying out a 15-year-long criminal scheme to defraud tax authorities, adding to the legal woes facing the former US president as he campaigns for the office again in 2024.
The Trump Organization – which operates hotels, golf courses, and other real estate around the world – was found guilty of paying personal expenses for top executives including former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, and issuing bonus checks to them as if they were independent contractors.
The company faces up to $1.6 million in fines after being convicted on all charges, including scheming to defraud tax authorities, conspiracy and falsifying business records. Trump was not charged in the case.
Justice Juan Merchan, who presided over the trial in state court in New York, set a sentencing date for Jan 13.
While the fine is not expected to be material for a company of the Trump Organization’s size, the conviction could complicate its ability to do business.
Weisselberg, 75, testified as the government’s star witness as part of a plea deal that calls for a sentence of five months in jail.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office prosecuted the case, called the verdict “very just.”
“The former president’s companies now stand convicted of crimes,” Bragg said in the New York courthouse after the verdict, speaking of the Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corporation, the two units of the Trump Organization which were convicted.
Asked if he regretted not charging Trump in the case, Bragg did not respond.
He has said that the office’s investigation into Trump is continuing.
Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, said the company would appeal and that the criminal law governing corporate liability was vague.
“It was central to the case,” he told reporters after the verdict.
The jury deliberated for about 12 hours over two days.
The case centred on charges that the company paid personal expenses like free rent and car leases for executives including Weisselberg without reporting the income, and gave them bonuses as non-employee compensation from other Trump entities like the Mar-a-lago Club, without deducting taxes.
According to testimony during the four-week trial, Trump himself signed the bonus checks annually, paid private school tuition for Weisselberg’s grandchildren, authorized the lease for his luxury Manhattan apartment and approved a salary deduction for another executive.
“The whole narrative that Donald Trump was blissfully ignorant is just not real, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass told jurors during his closing argument on Friday.
He said the “smorgasbord of benefits” was designed to keep top executives “happy and loyal.”
Republican Trump, who on Nov 15 announced his third campaign for the presidency, said in a statement he was “disappointed” by the verdict but called the case a “Manhattan witch hunt.” Both Bragg and his predecessor who brought the charges, Cyrus Vance, are Democrats.
The Trump Organization separately faces a fraud lawsuit brought by New York state Attorney General Letitia James. (Int’l News Desk)