The Trump Organization’s tax evasion trial is in its second week at a Manhattan criminal courthouse.
On Tuesday, jurors saw the first evidence linking the alleged fraud to the top of the company.
Donald and Eric Trump’s signatures may refute defense claims that the scheme ended with underlings.
Jurors in the Trump Organization tax evasion trial have seen the first evidence directly linking Donald Trump to the case, including key documents bearing the former president’s distinctive signatures and initials.
This early breakthrough in the lawsuits took place Tuesday in the Manhattan courtroom where Trump’s real estate and golf empire – but not Trump himself – is on trial for allegedly helping its executives cheat on their property taxes. revenue.
Jurors saw what the prosecution said and what a witness confirmed were Trump’s signatures on half a dozen important letters and payroll documents. This is evidence intended to solidly refute defense claims that the tax avoidance scheme stopped a rung from the top of the company, meaning it does not involve someone by the name of Trump.
The documents were introduced through the trial’s first witness, Jeffrey McConney, who, as the comptroller of the Trump Organization, is responsible for his payroll and tax filings.
McConney would end up derailing the trial on Tuesday afternoon by testing positive for COVID-19 during the lunch break. His testimony – and the trial itself – are tentatively set to resume Monday morning.
But during his morning on the stand Tuesday — and between bouts of coughing — McConney managed to do damage to the defense by saying “Donald Trump,” “Mr. Trump” and “President Trump” repeatedly as he he was asked to identify the signatures being displayed on the screens in the courtroom.
“Who’s the signature?” Joshua Steinglass, one of the two lead prosecutors, asked McConney as jurors watched an overhead of a May 1, 2005 letter.
“President Trump,” McConney said of the signature, identifying the now widely recognized mini mountain range in Sharpie ink at the bottom of the letter.
“And is that his full signature?”
“Yes,” McConney replied.
In the 17-year-old letter, Trump personally authorized a $6,500-a-month lease for an apartment on Manhattan’s Hudson River waterfront; Trump’s letter said it was to be manned exclusively by his longtime chief financial officer.
“In other words, Donald J. Trump has authorized Donald J. Trump to sign the lease” for the apartment, Steinglass asked about the contents of the letter. The cough controller answered “yes”.
“Who signed this lease? for the apartment, Steinglass then asked, showing the lease itself onscreen.
“It’s President Trump’s signature,” McConney replied.
The now former chief financial officer who took advantage of that free apartment from the company – in what was once Trump Place on Riverside Boulevard – is an even more important prosecution witness, Allen Weisselberg, who started with the company when the father of Trump ran it in 1973.
Now a “special adviser” who is on leave but still collecting his salary and a defense attorney at Trump’s expense, Weisselberg admitted in August to having lived in the apartment for years as part of a tax-free package. of the Trump Organization’s executive “benefits.”
The whole deal is about those “benefits” – benefits ranging from luxury cars and apartments to free electronics, carpeting and tuition at a private school for Weisselberg’s son and grandchildren.
Weisselberg admitted in his guilty plea that he pocketed more than $1.76 million in benefits during the 15-year life of the tax evasion scheme. Although the benefits were part of his salary, he never paid tax on them as required by law.
Weisselberg is now the scapegoat for defense strategy. No one named Trump participated in the tax evasion scheme, jurors said in opening statements for the defense Monday. Instead, the program started and stopped with the CFO.
“Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg,” as Trump Organization attorney Michael van der Veen told jurors several times during the openings.
On Tuesday, the prosecution’s theory — which alleges that at least on some occasions Trump, and therefore society, did it for Weisselberg — is bolstered by a scattering of paperwork in the already document-heavy trial.
At one point on Tuesday, jurors saw Trump’s black marker initials on two 2011 bills. In one, from PC Richard & Son, Trump electronically signed $1,954.17. On the other, he signed nearly $7,000 in carpeting from ABC Carpet and Home.
Prosecutors say the electronics and carpeting were part of Weisselberg’s illegally untaxed benefit package.
Eric Trump’s signature also surfaced on a 2020 document shown to jurors on Tuesday.
McConney testified that the document is a recording of Eric Trump signing this year’s salary for Weisselberg, including $640,000 plus a $500,000 bonus, and for McConney, who was to earn $300,000 plus a $125 bonus. $000.
Trump himself personally signed a portion of six years of private school tuition checks for Weisselberg’s grandchildren, prosecutors alleged in describing yet more untaxed benefits.
“Do you know that Allen Weisselberg’s grandchildren went to a private school” in Manhattan, Steinglass asked McConney on Tuesday.
“Yes,” replied the controller.
When Steinglass asked him what the name of the school is, McConney replied “Columbia something. I don’t remember.”
“Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School?” suggested the prosecutor.
“I believe so,” McConney replied.
“Is that also where Donald Trump’s son went?” continues the prosecutor.
“I believe so,” McConney replied again.
“Who paid the school fees” for the Weisselberg grandchildren, the prosecutor asked.
“Mr. Trump,” the controller muttered.
“Did you say Mr. Trump?” asked the prosecutor.
“President Trump,” the comptroller replied.
“Did he sign those checks himself?” asked the prosecutor.
“I believe so, yes,” replied the controller.
“Who decided that Donald Trump would pay Allen Weisselberg’s tuition?” the prosecutor then asked.
It was a strategic question. Could the defense attribute this to Weisselberg by doing it for Weisselberg? Who else but Trump himself could decide to uncap his marker and sign his own checks?
“I have no idea,” replied the comptroller, one of the many occasions when he refrained from involving “the boss”, as he called the former president.
Those tuition checks signed by Trump, including one totaling $89,000 from 2015, have yet to be shown to jurors.
Now sick with COVID, McConney won’t be back on the stand — and the trial won’t resume, and the tuition checks will remain in an evidence USB drive — until Monday morning at the earliest.
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