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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Plea deal requires Weisselberg to testify at Trump Organization trial

Allen Weisselberg, right, is expected to plead guilty in a long-running tax scheme on Thursday.

By Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Jonah E. Bromwich

Allen H. Weisselberg, who for decades was one of Donald Trump’s most trusted executives, is expected to plead guilty on today to a long-running tax scheme at the former president’s family business — a serious blow to the company that could imperil its chances in an upcoming trial.

The plea deal will allow Weisselberg, who was facing up to 15 years in prison, to spend as little as 100 days behind bars, according to people with knowledge of the matter. And it does not require Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer, to cooperate with the Manhattan district attorney’s office in its broader investigation into Trump, who has not been accused of wrongdoing.

But Weisselberg is expected to admit to all 15 felonies he was charged with and will have to testify about his role in a scheme to avoid paying taxes on lavish corporate perks, the people said. That requirement will put the company at a disadvantage and make Weisselberg a central witness at its trial in October, where it will face many of the same charges.

Weisselberg is not expected to implicate Trump or his family when he takes the stand in the October trial, the people said, and on cross-examination, the company’s lawyers could accuse him of pleading guilty only to spare himself a harsher sentence.

But his testimony — an acknowledgment from one of the Trump Organization’s top executives that he committed the crimes listed in the indictment — will undercut any effort by the company’s lawyers to contend that no crime was committed. The indictment placed Weisselberg at the center of the company’s scheme, and his testimony could enable prosecutors to argue that his admissions go a long way toward proving its broader claims.

The New York Times reported on Monday that Weisselberg was nearing a deal with prosecutors, and CNN reported Wednesday that he had agreed to testify at the Trump Organization’s trial.

Weisselberg’s lawyers, Nicholas Gravante Jr. and Mary E. Mulligan, declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Weisselberg, 75, and the Trump Organization were indicted last year by the district attorney’s office and accused of orchestrating a scheme in which some executives were compensated with special off-the-books perks. Weisselberg, the prosecutors said, avoided paying taxes on $1.76 million of his income over the last 15 years.

The executive, who entered the Trump orbit as a junior bookkeeper for Trump’s father and climbed the ranks at the Trump Organization in the decades that followed, possessed a peerless knowledge of its business practices, and prosecutors had pressured him to cooperate with their wider investigation into the former president. But the district attorney who indicted him, Cyrus Vance Jr., was not able to sway him, and Vance’s successor, Alvin Bragg, has also been unsuccessful.

The deal, though, could represent a victory for Bragg as his prosecutors prepare for the highest-profile trial of his young tenure.

The investigation into Trump has largely focused on whether he fraudulently inflated the value of his real estate and other assets to obtain loans and other financial benefits. Over the last year, the prosecutors have examined Trump’s annual financial statements, which he provided to banks and insurance companies.

The New York state attorney general, Letitia James, is conducting a civil inquiry into the same allegations, and some of her lawyers are participating in the criminal inquiry. Earlier this month, her office deposed Trump, who declined to answer questions, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, leaving the attorney general to decide whether to file a lawsuit against the former president.

Trump’s refusal to answer questions came on the heels of the FBI search of his Florida home as part of an unrelated criminal investigation. He also faces scrutiny in Washington, D.C., and in Georgia for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

In Manhattan, the investigation has long presented a significant threat to Trump. For years, Vance’s prosecutors sought his tax returns, a battle that reached the Supreme Court twice. Before the court ruled in the district attorney’s favor, Bloomberg News reported on some of the perks that Weisselberg had received, leading prosecutors to more closely scrutinize the chief financial officer’s conduct.

Weisselberg, they found, received leased Mercedes-Benzes, a rented apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and private school tuition for his grandchildren. In the indictment, prosecutors said that he avoided reporting those perks to tax authorities, and that they were not reflected in The Trump Organization’s general ledger, even though they were tracked on spreadsheets within the company.

Even after his indictment, Weisselberg refused to cooperate and testify against Trump, making a plea deal elusive, the people said. But the negotiations gained steam in recent weeks, culminating in a meeting on Monday between Weisselberg’s lawyers, prosecutors and the state Supreme Court judge presiding over the case, Juan Merchan.

The judge won’t sentence Weisselberg until after the Trump Organization’s trial, providing prosecutors some leverage over him until he testifies. If Merchan finds that Weisselberg did not live up to the terms of the plea agreement, he can impose a stiffer sentence than the expected five months.

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