NEW YORK (Reuters) – The prosecution rested its case on Monday in the criminal trial of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s real estate company on charges including tax fraud after calling five witnesses over three weeks, setting the stage for the Trump Organization to begin to mount its defense.
Jurors in New York state court in Manhattan last week heard from the prosecution’s star witness Allen Weisselberg, the company’s former chief financial officer, who testified that the Trump Organization paid his personal expenses including rent and car leases for more than a decade, allowing him to avoid paying taxes on $1.76 million in income.
The Trump Organization, which operates hotels, golf courses and other real estate around the world, could face up to $1.6 million in fines for the three tax fraud counts and six other counts it faces, if convicted. It has pleaded not guilty.
Trump has not been charged in the case. Trump, a Republican who last week launched another bid for the presidency in 2024, has called the charges politically motivated. Alvin Bragg, the current Manhattan district attorney, is a Democrat, as is the DA who brought the charges last year, Cyrus Vance.
The company has sought to shift the blame onto Weisselberg as well as Donald Bender, an outside accountant with the Mazars firm who prepared tax returns for the company and Weisselberg. Lawyers for the company have said they plan to call Bender as a witness. Mazars in February dropped the company as a client and said it could no longer stand behind a decade of Trump’s financial statements.
The district attorney’s office charged the Trump Organization and Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty to charges including grand larceny and tax fraud in an August deal with prosecutors calling for a jail sentence of five months if he testified truthfully in the trial.
Weisselberg during three days of testimony said he worked with the Trump Organization’s controller to misreport his and others’ income on company tax forms, which let the company save on salary payments as well as payroll taxes. The testimony gave a boost to the prosecutors, who in order to win a conviction must show that executives acted in their official capacity when committing crimes.
Under cross-examination by the defense, Weisselberg said his intention in carrying out the arrangement was to benefit himself, calling the company’s savings a “byproduct.” He choked up as he said he was embarrassed about having betrayed the Trump family’s trust.
Weisselberg, who has worked for the company for nearly half a century, is on paid leave from the Trump Organization.
The prosecution began presenting its case on Oct. 31. Its final witness on Monday was Mukaila Rabiu, an auditor with the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.
The case is separate from a $250 million civil lawsuit filed by New York’s attorney general against Trump, three of his adult children and his company in September, accusing them of overstating asset values and his net worth to get favorable bank loans and insurance coverage.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday named a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department’s investigations related to Trump including his handling of sensitive government documents after leaving office and efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Will Dunham and Noeleen Walder)
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