The Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, have been charged in a tax-related investigation, marking the first criminal charges against the former president’s company since prosecutors began investigating it three years ago, two people familiar with the matter told the Associated Press.
The move marks the latest stage of an escalating battle between New York prosecutors and the former president. The charges against the Trump Organization and Weisselberg remained sealed Wednesday night, but were expected to involve alleged tax violations related to benefits the company gave to top executives, possibly including use of apartments, cars and school tuition, people familiar with the case said.
While no charges are expected to be brought against Trump personally the charges mark an extraordinary turning point for the former president and more are likely to follow. New York prosecutors are still investigating allegations of “hush money” paid to women who say they had sexual relations with Trump, and claims of real-estate price manipulation.
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.
Prosecutors have been pressing Weisselberg, 73, to cooperate with their investigations but with little success so far.
No one other than Trump has such a thorough knowledge of the Trump Organization. “They are like Batman and Robin,” Jennifer Weisselberg, ex-wife of Allen Weisselberg’s son Barry told the New York Times. Jennifer Weisselberg has aided Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance investigation into Trump’s business after a contentious divorce, supplying hundreds of pages of tax documents.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, testified before Congress in 2019 that Weisselberg helped orchestrate a cover-up to reimburse him for a $130,000 payment made to the adult film actor Stormy Daniels, who has claimed she had sex with Trump.
Cohen also testified that he and Weisselberg concocted phoney valuations of Trump’s real estate holdings to devalue assets for tax purposes while inflating them for loan agreements.
Vance and the New York state attorney general, Letitia James, are investigating both those allegations.
A grand jury was recently empaneled to weigh evidence, and James said she was assigning two of her lawyers to work with Vance on the criminal inquiry while she continues a civil investigation of Trump.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment from the Guardian.
Trump had blasted the investigation in a statement Monday, deriding Vance’s office as “rude, nasty, and totally biased”.
Trump Organization lawyers met virtually with Manhattan prosecutors last week in a last-ditch attempt to dissuade them from charging the company. Prosecutors gave the lawyers a Monday deadline to make the case that criminal charges shouldn’t be filed.
Ron Fischetti, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, told the AP this week that there was no indication Trump himself was included in the first batch of charges.
“There is no indictment coming down this week against the former president,” Fischetti said. “I can’t say he’s out of the woods yet completely.”
Weisselberg, a loyal lieutenant to Trump and his real estate-developer father, Fred, came under scrutiny, in part, because of questions about his son’s use of a Trump apartment at little or no cost.
Prosecutors investigating untaxed benefits to Trump executives have also been looking at Matthew Calamari, a former Trump bodyguard turned chief operating officer, and his son, the company’s corporate director of security. However, a lawyer for the Calamaris said Wednesday that he didn’t expect them to be charged.
“Although the DA’s investigation obviously is ongoing, I do not expect charges to be filed against either of my clients at this time,” said the lawyer, Nicholas Gravante.
The company and Weisselberg were expected to make their first court appearance Thursday.
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