For years, as Donald Trump soared from reality TV star to the White House, his real estate empire was bankrolling big perks for some top executives, including apartments and luxury cars. Now Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, is on trial for criminal tax fraud — on the hook for what prosecutors say was a 15-year scheme by his most trusted lieutenant to avoid paying taxes on those fringe benefits, the Associated Press reports. In opening statements Monday, prosecutors and defense lawyers sparred over the company’s culpability for the actions of Allen Weisselberg, who has pleaded guilty and agreed to testify as a star prosecution witness in exchange for a five-month jail sentence. Another Trump Organization executive, senior vice president and controller Jeffrey McConney, walked a prosecutor through financial records, including Weisselberg’s payroll forms and ledger entries showing that the company paid for Weisselberg’s car leases.
McConney, whom prosecutors say helped Weisselberg by misreporting his income to tax authorities, was granted immunity to testify last year before a grand jury and to testify again at the criminal trial. He said he appeared before the grand jury eight times on a variety of Trump-related matters. The tax fraud case is the only criminal trial to arise from the Manhattan district attorney’s three-year investigation of the former president and is one of three active cases involving Trump or the company in New York courts. Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger argued in her opening statement that the Trump Organization — through its subsidiaries Trump Corp. and Trump Payroll Corp. — is liable because Weisselberg, the longtime finance chief, was a “high managerial agent” entrusted to act on behalf of the company and its various entities. The company, she said, benefited because it didn’t have to pay Weisselberg and at least two other executives who received perks as much in salary and bonus pay — which for Weisselberg totaled close to $1 million a year.