NEW YORK – Former President Donald Trump’s onetime chief financial officer took the witness stand Tuesday, testifying for prosecutors in the criminal tax fraud case against two Trump companies.
Weisselberg, 75, Trump’s closest non-family confidante, began answering questions about alleged tax-free payments, apartments and cars and other perks paid to him and other executives by the Trump Corporation and the Trump Payroll Corporation.
Trump himself is not charged in the case, and is not expected to appear in court during the trial.
In all, Weisselberg received $1.7 million of the tax-free benefits during an alleged 12-year span.
He pleaded guilty in August to 15 criminal counts that parallel the charges against the two companies. The cooperation agreement with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office requires Weisselberg to testify truthfully in exchange for roughly 100 days of incarceration.
That’s far less than the maximum 15-year prison term he faced without his plea deal.
Prosecutors hope that Weisselberg’s testimony will provide evidence that the tax-free payments benefited or were intended to benefit the Trump companies, the legal requirement for a conviction.
Defense lawyers are expected to argue that Weisselberg directed the payments for the benefit of himself and others, not for the companies.
The start of Weisselberg’s testimony in the trial came hours before an expected announcement by Trump, possibly of a third presidential campaign during an event at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida Tuesday night.
It also followed testimony by two prosecution witnesses who continue to work for the Trump companies and whose legal representation in the case is being paid for by the Trump Corporation.
Jeffrey McConney, the comptroller of the Trump Corporation, seemed more like a defense witness at times during days of testimony. He repeatedly said he did not understand some questions and ducked others from Assistant District Attorney Jason Weinglass. He appeared to be more at ease replying to questions from defense attorney Susan Necheles.
On Monday, Acting Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, the judge presiding over the trial, granted Steinglass’ request to designate McConney as a hostile witness. That enabled the prosecutor to ask leading – yes-or-no – questions which McConney answered.
Deborah Tarasoff, the accounts payable supervisor for the Trump Corporation, testified that Weisselberg told her to delete his name from the descriptions on invoices in the firm’s records that paid the private school tuition of his grandchildren.
Those payments were made by Trump, and Weisselberg did not disclose the gift as taxable income, prosecution evidence showed.