Former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg testified Tuesday that Donald Trump personally green-lighted untaxed benefits that are the center of a Manhattan criminal trial against several of the ex-president’s eponymous companies — including a gratis residence in New York City. “The rent was authorized by Donald Trump,” Weisselberg said less than two hours into his time on the stand in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. The septuagenarian, who sported a deep gray suit and pale blue tie, spoke matter of factly.
Prosecutors allege that the Trump Organization participated in an illicit compensation scheme that illegally lined Weisselberg’s pockets to the tune of $1.7 million of untaxed income. Weisselberg in August pleaded guilty to a 15-count indictment related to these unlawful payouts and, according to Weisselberg’s plea agreement, he “must testify truthfully” if called to testify at trial.
Prosecutors indeed summoned Weisselberg to testify — hence the Trump loyalist’s much-awaited courtroom appearance this afternoon. Should Weisselberg testify honestly, his sentence under the plea deal is five months in jail, and five years probation. If Weisselberg doesn’t, then he faces far more time behind bars, judge Juan Merchan previously said.
Weisselberg’s plea agreement stipulates that he won’t face sentencing until after the trial ends, “to ensure compliance” with this testimony requirement. He also has to cough up nearly $2 million in unpaid taxes.
When Weisselberg pleaded guilty in August, he made a stunning admission. He responded “yes, your honor” when Merchan asked whether he “engaged in a scheme” with the Trump Organization “to defraud federal, New York state, and New York City tax authorities.”
One day prior to Weisselberg’s plea, Rolling Stone exclusively reported that he would cop to conspiring with several of Trump’s corporations during his allocution proceeding. CNN first reported that his plea agreement mandated him to testify against Trump’s companies at trial.
Earlier that week, The New York Times revealed that Weisselberg was planning to take a plea. One of the two sources who discussed Weisselberg with Rolling Stone the week of his plea revealed that his potential trial testimony would be the same as his allocution.
Although Trump is not on trial, prosecutors have closely linked this alleged illegal activity to him. During opening statements on October 31, prosecutors said that from 2005 to 2017, “when most of the criminal conduct occurred,” these companies were “owned by Donald Trump.”
Following Trump’s assumption of the presidency in 2017, these enterprises “were still effectively owned by Donald Trump through a trust called the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust,” Assistant District Attorney Susan Hoffinger said.
“The evidence will show that when Donald Trump was elected president at the end of 2016, these companies finally had to clean up these fraudulent tax practices,” Hoffinger argued. “There was concern about extra scrutiny of these companies because of Donald Trump’s election.”
The trial is rooted in the 2021 indictment of several Trump businesses, including The Trump Organization, for a purported 15-year-long tax fraud plot. The supposed financial misdeeds related to untaxed perks to Weisselberg in a “sweeping and audacious illegal payments scheme,” prosecutors have said.
The prosecution claimed that Weisselberg’s loyalty to Trump and his ilk paid off. Beginning in 2005, Weisselberg lived in an apartment rent-free on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The Trump Corporation leased the apartment and, in addition to covering the rent, covered his utility and parking fees, the indictment claimed.
Trump’s eponymous company is also accused of paying the leases on two Mercedes-Benz vehicles that Weisselberg and his wife treated as their personal cars. Trump’s business entities also provided cash to Weisselberg around Christmas, so he could dole out “personal holiday gratuities.”
Trump’s companies also picked up bills involving Weisselberg’s “homes and for an apartment maintained by one of his children,” such as “new beds, flat-screen televisions, the installation of carpeting, and furniture for Weisselberg’s home in Florida.”
The Trump Corporation also took care of private school tuition bills for Weisselberg’s grandkids. Hoffinger told jurors in her opening statement that Trump paid this tab “personally” — a claim which was backed by Weisselberg’s testimony on Tuesday.
Weisselberg said that he could authorize a small expense out of Trump company coffers, but if it was a large number, Trump would generally approve them.
Weisselberg testified that the Trump Corporation paid for his utilities at the rent-free pad. “It’s your understanding that was authorized by Mr. Trump?” Hoffinger asked. Weisselberg responded: “That was my understanding, yes.”
Asked whether Trump paid the private school tuition personally, Weisselberg said, “Correct.” Weisselberg then admitted that these luxe perks should have been taxed, but were not treated as reported income on his W-2s.
“Did you know at the time you owed taxes on those amounts, sir?” Hoffinger asked.
“Yes,” Weisselberg replied.
Did Weisselberg know the Trump Payroll Corporation should have included this on his W-2s? He replied in the affirmative.
Hoffinger then asked about Jeffrey McConney, senior vice president and controller for Trump Corporation, whom prosecutors alleged aided Weisselberg in the tax fraud scheme.
“In my mind, I absolutely felt that [McConney] knew it should have been reported,” Weisselberg said. Hoffinger then asked how it wound up that the bonuses weren’t on the W-2s.
“I asked Jeffrey McConney to back those amounts out of my bonus and salary,” Weisselberg said, explaining that it was “to reduce the amount of my bonus and salary.”
Weisselberg said he didn’t just seek a raise because Trump’s company would have had to pay him far more than the desired amount due to tax withholdings. Weisselberg replied, “Yes,” when asked by Hoffinger if this saved Trump’s company money.
Trump’s companies have pleaded not guilty, and his team has repeatedly cast this case as a politically-driven witch hunt. During the proceedings, the legal teams for Trump’s companies have voiced support of Weisselberg and, to some lesser extent, made him into a fall guy.
Susan Necheles, who represents the Trump Corporation, placed all the blame for tax shenanigans on Weisselberg during her opening statement, with a hint of compassion. The septuagenarian was “paraded in front of cameras in handcuffs” upon his arrest and came to realize that he would endure “public humiliation” and a possibly long jail sentence, too.
“This was a man who had a beautiful life, he was a chief financial officer of a prestigious company, at his peak he made over $1 million a year and lived very well… Allen Weisselberg had everything a man could want,” Necheles said. “But once he was arrested, he realized he was in danger of losing all of that and being sentenced to jail for years.”
The fishy financial maneuvering “started with Allen Weisselberg and it ended with Allen Weisselberg,” Necheles insisted. “It was Allen Weisselberg who wanted to clean things up. Allen Weisselberg knew that he had been cheating on his personal taxes and all of a sudden the Trump Organization was going to get a lot of scrutiny,” she argued. “Donald Trump did not know that Allen Weisselberg was cheating on Allen Weisselberg’s personal tax return[s].”
Weisselberg’s testimony also revealed that he wasn’t iced out of Trump’s orbit per se, but found himself distanced following his arrest. After he was arrested, his Trump Tower office was moved from the 26th to the 25th floor.
And after he pleaded guilty, Weisselberg said, “I began to work from home. I didn’t come into the office any longer.”
Hoffiner asked whether he was on a leave of absence following his guilty plea. Weisselberg answered, “Yes,” but noted that it was “paid.”
Weisselberg also described how his son, Trump employee Barry Weisselberg, threw him a birthday party at Trump Tower on the day he had finalized his plea deal. Trump Organization staffers were present. “Much to my regret my son made sure I had a birthday,” Weisselberg said, quickly de-emphasizing the size of this shindig. “It was a small cake. It was a cake.”