By Karen Freifeld and Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Donald Trump’s real estate company of the same name was involved in a tax fraud and the former US president knew it was going on, a prosecutor said on Friday, closing discussions in the Trump Organization’s criminal trial, rebutting to defense claims that Trump was unaware of the pattern.
In his final day of closing arguments, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said Trump authorized a variety of benefits and payments for top executives, including apartment rentals and Christmas bonuses, who deceived tax authorities by not reporting or declaring mistakenly as compensation for non-employees.
“The whole narrative that Donald Trump was blissfully ignorant is not real,” Steinglass told the 12-person jury in a New York state court.
Trump, he said, has been “very practical when it comes to compensating his best people.”
The Trump Organization pleaded not guilty to 15-year tax fraud by covering executives’ personal expenses, reducing salaries to account for expenses, and paying employees as if they were independent contractors.
His lawyers said the fraud was the work of a dishonest employee, longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, who was looking out for himself.
Weisselberg pleaded guilty in August and testified, sometimes appearing conflicted, for the prosecution.
“Their own witnesses … testified repeatedly that President Trump knew nothing about Weisselberg’s tax regime,” defense attorney Susan Necheles said in her closing argument Thursday.
Trump has not been charged personally.
The firm’s lawyers objected when Steinglass showed jurors a memo initialed by Trump which it said showed the former president “explicitly sanctioning tax fraud.”
Judge Juan Merchan, who oversees the trial, upheld that objection, meaning jurors must ignore the statement.
But he let Steinglass debate what Trump knew, saying the defense had opened the door trying to get Trump off the case.
If convicted of tax fraud, forging corporate documents and other charges, Trump’s company faces up to $1.6 million in fines.
The jury is expected to begin deliberations on Monday.
‘FREE CAR FOR YOU’
Steinglass said the tax fraud helped Trump’s company keep wages low, shift tax credits to Trump entities like his Mar-a-Lago club, reduce payroll taxes and keep executives happy and loyal, in part by lowering their personal taxes.
He highlighted Weisselberg’s testimony that the company saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by covering his expenses instead of giving him a raise.
Steinglass said Trump has approved luxury apartments for Weisselberg and his son, and chief operating officer Matthew Calamari and his son. She said Trump also authorized auto leasing for both executives and their wives.
“This is all part of Trump’s executive compensation package,” Steinglass said. “Free cars for you, free cars for your wife, free apartments for you, free apartments for your kids.”
Weisselberg is on paid leave from the company and will serve five months in prison under his plea deal.
He testified that he had no schemes with anyone in the Trump family and was embarrassed that he had broken their trust after nearly five decades on the job.
He also said he still hopes to collect a $500,000 bonus in January.
Trump, a Republican, called the allegations politically motivated. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is a Democrat, as is his predecessor Cyrus Vance, who filed charges last year.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen and Karen Freifeld in New York; Editing by Alistair Bell)
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