“Allen Weisselberg’s a very good man, and he’s been treated horribly,” he said, characterizing the indictment as political persecution.
Mr. Trump did not respond directly to a question about whether the organization had systematically avoided its tax burdens, as it stood accused of doing, but called the case “ridiculous.”
His reluctance to discuss the allegations in depth stood in contrast to his gloating after a real estate rival, Leona Helmsley, was charged with tax crimes in 1989, prompting Mr. Trump to call her a “disgrace to humanity.”
While the charges unveiled on Thursday represent a climax of sorts, they may also mark another step in the district attorney’s broader, continuing investigation into the former president, in which he has been joined by the New York State attorney general, Letitia James. The inquiry is focused on whether Mr. Trump effectively kept two separate sets of books: one for his bankers, in which he overstated the value of his properties, and another for the tax authorities, in which he understated them.
Mr. Weisselberg, who is approaching his fifth decade working for the Trump family and would know those books better than almost anyone, has been under intense pressure for months as prosecutors use every tool at their disposal to turn him into a cooperating witness. But the executive, whom a former co-worker described as a “disciple” for his devotion to Mr. Trump, will now have to weigh that loyalty against the prospect of spending time in prison.
Tax experts have said it is unusual to bring a criminal case solely on the failure to pay taxes on such perks, known as fringe benefits. However, those familiar with the methods of Mark F. Pomerantz, the experienced prosecutor Mr. Vance tapped to help lead the investigation, say that Thursday’s indictment could represent the starting point of a broader case.
“It certainly could serve as a building block. In any case involving an organization, you’re going to indict people and try to flip them,” said Robert S. Litt, a former federal prosecutor and Justice Department official who has been friends with Mr. Pomerantz for decades. “They’ve more or less thrown the book at Weisselberg, and if the proof is strong enough and his concern about going to jail strong enough, he may decide to save himself at the expense of others.”
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