Trump Organization executive surrenders to face charges in tax investigation

Allen Weisselberg prepares to face charges in tax-related investigation at pivotal moment for ex-president

The Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, has surrendered to the Manhattan district attorney’s office as he and the Trump family business prepare to face criminal charges in a tax-related investigation.

Weisselberg, who has worked for the Trump family for nearly 50 years, entered a building housing Manhattan’s criminal court, where he and a Trump Organization representative are expected to appear later in the day. His lawyers said he would plead not guilty and would fight the charges.

These are the first criminal charges against the former president’s company since prosecutors began investigating it three years ago, and represent a pivotal moment in the escalating battle between New York prosecutors and the former president.

The exact charges against Weisselberg and the Trump Organization are not yet known but are expected to involve alleged tax violations related to benefits the company gave to top executives, possibly including the use of apartments and cars and school tuition, people familiar with the case said.

While no charges were expected to be brought against Trump personally, they mark an extraordinary turning point and more are likely to follow.

New York prosecutors are still investigating allegations of “hush money” paid to women who say they had sexual relations with Trump, and claims of real-estate price manipulation. Trump denies wrongdoing and calls the investigations a “witch-hunt” by politically motivated prosecutors.

The charges are also a severe blow to the Trump Organization, which may now find it more difficult to raise money as the case continues. They also pose a challenge to Trump’s apparent political ambitions. Trump has begun a series of campaign-style rallies and is positioning himself for another run at the presidency in 2024.

Prosecutors had been pressing Weisselberg, 73, to cooperate with their investigations but with little success until now.

No one apart from the former president has such a thorough knowledge of the Trump Organization. “They are like Batman and Robin,” Jennifer Weisselberg, the ex-wife of Allen Weisselberg’s son Barry, told the New York Times. Jennifer Weisselberg has aided the Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance’s investigation into Trump’s business after a contentious divorce, supplying hundreds of pages of tax documents.

Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen testified before Congress in 2019 that Weisselberg helped orchestrate a cover-up to reimburse him for a $130,000 payment made to the adult film actor Stormy Daniels, who has claimed she had sex with Trump.

Cohen also testified that he and Weisselberg concocted phoney valuations of Trump’s real estate holdings to devalue assets for tax purposes while inflating them for loan agreements. Vance and the New York state attorney general, Letitia James, are investigating both allegations.

A grand jury was recently empaneled to weigh evidence and James said she was assigning two of her lawyers to work with Vance on the criminal inquiry while she continued a civil investigation of Trump.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment from the Guardian.

In a statement the Trump Organization called Weisselberg “a loving and devoted husband, father and grandfather” who was “being used by the Manhattan district attorney as a pawn in a scorched earth attempt to harm the former president”.

“This is not justice; this is politics,” the statement read.

Trump had blasted the investigation in a statement Monday, deriding Vance’s office as “rude, nasty, and totally biased”.

Trump Organization lawyers met virtually with Manhattan prosecutors last week in a last-ditch attempt to dissuade them from charging the company. Prosecutors gave the lawyers a Monday deadline to make the case that criminal charges should not be filed.

Ronald Fischetti, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, told the Associated Press this week that there was no indication Trump was included in the first batch of charges. “There is no indictment coming down this week against the former president,” Fischetti said. “I can’t say he’s out of the woods yet completely.”

Weisselberg, a loyal lieutenant to Trump and his real estate developer father, Fred, came under scrutiny in part because of questions about his son’s use of a Trump apartment at little or no cost.

Prosecutors investigating untaxed benefits to Trump executives have also been looking at Matthew Calamari, a former Trump bodyguard turned chief operating officer, and his son, the company’s corporate director of security. A lawyer for the Calamaris said on Wednesday that he did not expect them to be charged.

“Although the DA’s investigation obviously is ongoing, I do not expect charges to be filed against either of my clients at this time,” said the lawyer, Nicholas Gravante.


Dominic Rushe in New York and agency

The GuardianTramp

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