The Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer pleaded not guilty to fraud and theft charges in the first criminal case to emerge from a years-long investigation of former President Donald Trump and his business dealings.
Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg and lawyers for the company appeared in a lower Manhattan courtroom Thursday afternoon for arraignment on charges by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance. Charges read out in the courtroom include grand larceny and scheme to defraud.
Weisselberg surrendered to authorities in the morning after a grand jury returned a sealed indictment on Wednesday night. His lawyers, Mary Mulligan and Bryan Skarlatos, had said in an earlier statement that the CFO intended to plead not guilty.
During the arraignment, Assistant District Attorney Carey Dunne said the indictment involved a “sweeping and audacious” 15-year fraud scheme involving unpaid taxes on perks like cars, apartments and private-school tuition extended to CFO. Such benefits are usually counted as compensation and an intentional failure to pay taxes on them would be illegal. People familiar with the matter said benefits totaling $1.7 million over 10 years were at issue in the case.
The CFO was led into the courtroom in handcuffs, dressed in a gray suit and wearing a face mask. Mulligan patted him on the back after a court officer removed his handcuffs. The arraignment took place before New York state court judge Juan Merchan.
Trump isn’t named in the charges, but the case may only be the opening salvo by the district attorney, who has been probing possible bank and insurance fraud at the company as well. The charges against Weisselberg significantly ratchet up the pressure on the CFO to cooperate with prosecutors.
Cooperation from Weisselberg could lead to a more expansive case against the company and raise the prospect of a historic and politically charged prosecution of a former president. With a trial unlikely before next year, the CFO will have months to decide whether to fight the charges or plead guilty and possibly strike a deal with prosecutors. A Trump executive for four decades, Weisselberg has unique insight into the former president’s finances and business deals.
Trump has slammed the probe by Vance, a Democrat, as a politically motivated witch hunt. The Trump Organization on Thursday issued a statement calling Weisselberg’s indictment “a scorched earth attempt to harm the former president” and saying Vance was “bringing a criminal prosecution involving employee benefits that neither the IRS nor any other district attorney would ever think of bringing.”
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