Trump Org.'s criminal tax fraud trial deliberations to continue Tuesday

ByEyewitness News, Associated Press WABC logo
Monday, December 5, 2022
Trump Org.'s tax fraud trial deliberations to continue Tuesday
Jurors in the Trump Organization's criminal tax fraud trial will continue deliberating for a second day on Tuesday. NJ Burkett has the latest details.

NEW YORK -- Deliberations are spilling into a second day Tuesday as jurors weigh charges that the Trump Organization helped executives dodge personal income taxes on perks such as Manhattan apartments and luxury cars.

The case went to the jury Monday follow a monthlong trial featuring testimony from seven witnesses, including the company's longtime finance chief Allen Weisselberg and Senior Vice President and Controller Jeffrey McConney.

They deliberated for about four hours on Monday and returned to the courtroom with a question just once as they sought to clarify one of the charges.

The deliberations began following lengthy instructions on the law by Judge Juan Merchan, who reminded jurors they pledged to set aside any personal opinions they may have about Trump and his family.

"You promised the attorneys for the defendants, the prosecution and this court that you would set aside any personal opinions you may have about Donald Trump and his family," Merchan said. "You also stated that you understood that Donald Trump and his family are not on trial here."

Trump may not be a defendant but his name came up repeatedly during the trial and the jury saw checks he signed and memos he endorsed.

Defense attorneys asked several witnesses roughly 60 times about Trump's knowledge of the tax scheme his company is charged with as they sought to advance their argument that Trump was in the dark and betrayed by his top executives, primarily Weisselberg, the Trump Organization's former chief financial officer and loyal Trump foot soldier for the last half century.

Defense attorney Michael van der Veen said in his closing statement that jurors "heard no evidence in this case that Mr. Trump or any of his children were aware of anything improper."

Prosecutors said Trump explicitly sanctioned tax fraud when he signed off on part of the scheme.

"This whole narrative that Donald Trump is blissfully ignorant is just not true," assistant district attorney Josh Steinglass said during his closing statement.

Prosecutors believe the Trump Organization is guilty because Weisselberg and other company executives arranged part of their compensation to evade taxes. In doing so, prosecutors said the executives had some intent to help the company pay less in salaries, bonuses and payroll taxes.

The defense argued the executives never intended to benefit company and said the scheme the executives hatched was motivated solely by personal greed.

The distinction is important because the judge told jurors the Trump Organization is only guilty if a high managerial agent of the company acted within the scope of his employment and in behalf of the company.

"An agent's acts are not in behalf of the corporation if they were undertaken solely to advance the agent's own interests," Merchan said. "If the agent's acts were taken merely for personal gain they were not in behalf of the corporation."

The defendants are two entities of the Trump Organization, the Trump Corporation and the Trump Payroll Corporation, each charged with scheme to defraud, conspiracy, criminal tax fraud and falsifying business records.

A conviction carries a maximum fine of $1.7 million. Collateral consequences of a conviction may be more significant to Trump, who is seeking another term in the White House. Banks could call in loans and business partners could cancel contracts if their internal policies prevent them from doing business with felons.

Even absent a conviction the trial revealed potentially embarrassing details about Trump, including nearly $1 billion in operating losses Trump reported over a two-year period in 2009 and 2010.

Trump's outside accountant also testified that Trump reported losses each year for eight years from 2009 to 2018, some of the same years Trump was touting his business acumen on reality television and on the campaign trail.