The Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges related to fraud and tax crimes, which former President Donald Trump has said is part of a political “witch hunt.”
Weisselberg, who has worked for Trump since 1973, surrendered himself to the Manhattan district attorney’s office early Thursday morning after a grand jury in Manhattan filed the indictments against him Wednesday. The Trump Organization and Weisselberg, who was brought into the court room in handcuffs, are accused of perpetrating a 15-year tax scheme, committing 15 felonies in the process, including scheme to defraud, conspiracy, grand larceny and falsifying business records, according to CNN.
Weisselberg, according to prosecutors, failed to pay taxes on $1.7 million of income, most of which has reportedly been from fringe benefits, CNN reported. Prior to the arraignment Thursday, Weisselberg’s attorneys, Mary Mulligan and Bryan Skarlatos, claimed Weisselberg will plead not guilty and “will fight these charges in court.”
— Zoe Tillman (@ZoeTillman) July 1, 2021
After the charges were announced, Attorneys said bringing criminal charges for fringe benefits is very unusual, even “unprecedented.” Attorneys and tax experts concurred with Weisselberg’s attorneys that it is atypical for criminal charges to be filed over fringe benefits.
“Politics has no role in the grand jury chamber, and I can assure your honor that it played no role here,” the assistant district attorney said. “The charges were considered by an impartial grand jury, and we look forward to this court’s review of the grand jury minutes, which will confirm that impartiality,” Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Carey Dunne said Thursday, according to Fox News.
Lynne Fuentes, a CPA and NYS Society of CPAs President -Elect, told the Caller that “To bring criminal charges up only related to fringe benefits is rare. It is usually combined with other criminal allegations made against a person or corporation.”
“Anyone with any measurable experience in this area of the law would accurately tell you that it is extraordinarily rare to bring criminal charges solely related to fringe benefits and doing so here speaks very poorly of the district attorney’s office,” attorney David Schoen, who represented Trump in his second impeachment trial, told the Caller.
“It’s virtually unheard of for state prosecutors to charge a company over taxation of fringe benefits – particularly where, as here, the IRS has not pursued the matter as far as we know,” attorney Harmeet Dhillon told the Caller.
The indictment against Weisselberg and the Trump Organization is the culmination of a sweeping investigation that has gone on for more than two years, beginning with alleged hush-money payments made by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen on former President Donald Trump’s behalf.
The investigation, headed up by District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and aided by personnel from New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office even made its way up to the Supreme Court over the release of President Donald Trump’s tax returns. (RELATED: Lawyer At Center Of Trump Prosecution Previously Criticized For Refusal To Go After Weinstein, Epstein)
“The origination of the investigation was not fringe benefits, rather it was Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen’s admission of receiving reimbursements for the payoff to Stormy Daniels and other information that he brought to congress and prosecutors, that led them to bring charges,” Fuentes told the Caller via email. “One would conclude that the non-reporting of fringe benefits in this case would need to have been egregious enough in nature to show an intentional disregard for the rules creating at a minimum ‘negligent’ understatement of taxes but more likely, willful tax evasion.”
The Trump Organization said the charges against Weisselberg are part of “a scorched earth attempt to harm the former President.”
“The District Attorney is bringing a criminal prosecution involving employee benefits that neither the IRS nor any other District Attorney would ever think of bringing. This is not justice; this is politics,” the Trump Organization’s statement read.
“I firmly believe the investigation and the charging decision were ‘deeply political’ and that that is the only fair conclusion one can draw,” Schoen said. “Remember, this ‘investigation’ was joined by an Attorney General who has made clear her partisan view of the role she has to play and she vowed long ago to go after Trump related matters. That kind of abuse of the AG’s role with a political agenda demeans the very integrity of the system.”
“It appears this entire prosecution is ginned up from the gossip of vengeful former associates and the intent of Cyrus Vance and Letitia James to abuse the public trust and use their offices for partisan political purposes,” Dhillon told the Caller. “Compare this to the total LACK of prosecution of Biden family members for the types of violations that are regularly prosecuted in America (firearms offenses, shady financial dealings with foreign politicians, corporations, etc.)… ”
(Thread 1/4): With @Varneyco on @FoxBusiness – This political hit job against @POTUS45 is the kind of third world nonsense we see in countries like #Pakistan where former presidents are taken down using petty offenses. Well beneath the dignity of New York prosecutorial offices. pic.twitter.com/4hUfyEhaeQ
— Harmeet K. Dhillon (@pnjaban) July 1, 2021
Schoen and Dhillon both think this is an ongoing effort for New York prosecutors to get to Trump himself, although Trump’s lawyer Ronald Fischetti said the former president is not expected to face charges in these recent matters. “Mr. Weisselberg was charged criminally in an effort to pressure him to say and do what the prosecutors want him to say and do vis a vis former President Trump, his family, and the Trump organization,” Schoen stated.
Dhillon said that it is “the only reason they would go after a 48-year loyal retainer of the family.”
Fuentes does not seem as convinced that the prosecution efforts amount to a witch hunt. “While this is a Trump organization receiving a lot of press to say this is just deeply political,… Prosecutors have a history of announcing when criminal charges are being brought against famous people, i.e. Leona Helmsley, Wesley Snipes, Pete Rose, Al Capone etc. as an example to warn others of their consequence of their actions could be.”