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Trump Organisation finance chief pleads guilty in tax evasion case

The Trump Organisation’s former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg leaves court (John Minchillo/AP)
The Trump Organisation’s former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg leaves court (John Minchillo/AP)

A top executive at former US president Donald Trump’s family business has pleaded guilty to evading taxes in a deal that could potentially make him a star witness against the company at a trial in the autumn.

Trump Organisation chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg pleaded guilty to all 15 of the charges he faced in the case.

He admitted taking in over 1.7 million US dollars (£1.4 million) worth of untaxed perks – including school tuition for his grandchildren, free rent for a Manhattan apartment and lease payments for a luxury car – and explicitly keeping some of the details off the books.

Allen Weisselberg, right, stands behind then US president-elect Donald Trump in 2017
Allen Weisselberg, right, stands behind then US president-elect Donald Trump in 2017 (Evan Vucci/AP)

Judge Juan Manuel Merchan agreed to sentence Weisselberg to five months in New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex, although he will be eligible for release much earlier if he behaves well behind bars.

The judge said Weisselberg would have to pay nearly two million US dollars (£1.6 million) in taxes, penalties and interest and complete five years of probation.

The plea bargain also requires Weisselberg to testify truthfully as a prosecution witness when the Trump Organisation goes on trial in October on related charges.

The company is accused of helping Weisselberg and other executives avoid income taxes by failing to accurately report their full compensation to the government. Mr Trump himself is not charged in the case.

Weisselberg’s lawyer Nicholas Gravante Jr said his client pleaded guilty “to put an end to this case and the years-long legal and personal nightmares it has caused for him and his family”.

“We are glad to have this behind him,” the lawyer added.

Allen Weisselberg, right, arrives in court
Allen Weisselberg, right, arrives in court (Curtis Means/DailyMail.com via AP)

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement that Weisselberg’s plea “directly implicates the Trump Organisation in a wide range of criminal activity and requires Weisselberg to provide invaluable testimony in the upcoming trial against the corporation”.

“We look forward to proving our case in court against the Trump Organisation,” he added.

Testimony by Weisselberg could potentially weaken the Trump Organisation’s defence. If convicted, the company could face fines or potentially be placed on probation and be forced to change certain business practices.

The company praised Weisselberg on Thursday as a trusted, honourable veteran employee who had been “persecuted and threatened by law enforcement, particularly the Manhattan district attorney, in their never-ending, politically motivated quest to get president Trump”.

In a statement, the company accused prosecutors of trying to pressure Weisselberg to cast aspersions on Mr Trump, and of stretching to make a criminal case out of familiar executive perks such as a company car.

The company said it had done nothing wrong, would not plead guilty and looked forward “to having our day in court”.

Allen Weisselberg, second right, sits in court with his lawyers
Allen Weisselberg, second right, sits in court with his lawyers (Curtis Means/DailyMail.com via AP)

Weisselberg, 75, is the only person to face criminal charges so far in the Manhattan district attorney’s long-running investigation of the company’s business practices.

Seen as one of Mr Trump’s most loyal business associates, Weisselberg was arrested in July 2021. His lawyers have argued the Democrat-led district attorney’s office was punishing him because he would not offer information that would damage Mr Trump.

The district attorney has also been investigating whether Mr Trump or his company lied to banks or the government about the value of its properties to obtain loans or reduce tax bills.