In a way, this reminds me of the Cosby prosecution. They’ve got the defendant dead to rights on the evidence, to all appearances. But the process of bringing him to trial feels sleazy enough that convicting him may be the worse of the two possible outcomes.
The difference between Bill Cosby and Allen Weisselberg is that in only one instance did the sleaziness cross the line of violating due process. Cosby was sprung by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court because the state pulled a bait-and-switch on him, promising him that his testimony in a civil case wouldn’t be used against him in criminal court and then using it anyway. Weisselberg hasn’t had to endure that but there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that he’s being targeted for prosecution now for political reasons. He’s spent nearly 50 years working for a Republican ex-president loathed by Democrats. After ignoring the Trump Organization for decades, Manhattan’s Democratic D.A. finally started sniffing around the business after its CEO won the White House with an eye to either implicating him in a crime or flipping someone at the business — namely, Weisselberg — who might roll over on him.
Nothing illegal about that. But having the D.A. suddenly perk up about criminality at Trump’s business only after Trump became a major political figure stinks on ice. The goal here, very clearly, isn’t to punish Weisselberg for criminal acts but to ruin Trump politically by bringing down his business or him personally. “If the name of the company was something else, I don’t think these charges would’ve been brought,” said the company’s lawyer, Alan Futerfas, today. Hard to disagree.
What’s the right outcome when a (probably) guilty man is being prosecuted for the wrong reasons?
According to the indictment, Weisselberg paid rent on his Manhattan apartment with company checks and directed the company to pay for his utility bills and parking. The company also paid for private school tuition for Weisselberg’s grandchildren with checks bearing Trump’s signature, as well as for Mercedes cars driven by Weisselberg and his wife, and gave him cash to hand out tips around Christmas.
Such perks were listed on internal Trump company documents as part of Weisselberg’s employee compensation but were not included on his W-2 forms or otherwise reported, and the company did not withhold taxes on their value, prosecutors said.
Trump’s company also issued checks, at Weisselberg’s request, to pay for personal expenses and upgrades to his homes and an apartment used by one of his sons, such as new beds, flat-screen TVs, carpeting and furniture, prosecutors said.
Weisselberg faces five to 15 years on the most serious charge, grand larceny. The indictment is straightforward in describing a scheme of brazen tax evasion in which the Trump Organization would pay Weisselberg a certain amount in salary and then separately pay some of his major expenses, with Weisselberg reporting only the salary component as taxable income. In some cases it was outlandishly brazen:
All told he supposedly received $1.7 million in perks he should have paid tax on but didn’t. The most striking detail in the indictment is how thoroughly all of this was allegedly documented, replete with two sets of books being kept to record Weisselberg’s nominal compensation and his actual compensation. One would think the Manhattan D.A. wouldn’t risk bringing a case like this to trial unless he was very confident in a conviction, knowing how humiliating it would be for the office to take Team Trump to court and lose.
Weisselberg has pleaded not guilty but that could always change, which is what prosecutors are hoping for, of course. They want the CFO, Trump’s right-hand man since the 1970s, to give him up so they can put their real target away. There were headlines a few days ago that the D.A. doesn’t plan to charge Trump himself with anything related to this case, but that’s myopic. They’re hoping Weisselberg will provide new evidence, probably tax-related, that will get them to an indictment on Trump:
The broader investigation into Mr. Trump and his company’s business practices is continuing. The prosecutors in the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., have been investigating whether Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization manipulated property values to obtain loans and tax benefits, among other potential financial crimes, The New York Times has reported…
The two started working together closely in the late 1970s, with Mr. Weisselberg putting in time on nights and weekends to handle projects for Mr. Trump, the ambitious son of his boss, Fred Trump. Mr. Weisselberg said in a 2015 deposition that he had been helping with Mr. Trump’s tax returns since at least the 1990s, when Mr. Trump made him the organization’s chief financial officer.
Prosecutors don’t even need a conviction to damage the Trump Organization. “Companies that are being indicted, whether they are private or public, big or small, face serious collateral consequences,” said one white-collar defense lawyer to the AP. “Companies in the financial services industry are reluctant to do business with them. Their access to capital is limited or cut off, as is their ability to place their liquid assets with banks and brokerages.” The D.A. could end up wrecking Trump’s business without sending anyone to prison.
Even if Weisselberg ends up beating the rap somehow, he may not be out of the woods. The charges filed today were for state crimes; the indictment alleges federal tax evasion too, so Merrick Garland and the DOJ may be waiting for him. There’s also speculation this evening that the unindicted co-conspirator named in the indictment is Jeff McConney, the “money man” at the Trump Organization who would know all sorts of things about the company’s dealings. If McConney is cooperating with the feds against Weisselberg (and Trump?) then Weisselberg’s in trouble. Is he prepared to go to prison rather than turn on his longtime boss?
I’ll leave you with this. One obvious question for Weisselberg and McConney is whether Weisselberg alone benefited from this “perk” system at the company where expenses like his rent were paid directly in order to reduce his income. Did … anyone else at the Trump Organization benefit from that sort of arrangement?
Via Hot Air