New York: Legal threats have moved closer to former US President Donald Trump with the prosecution of his companies and a top official in his inner circle currently face charges of tax fraud.
The case filed in a local court by a city prosecutor on Thursday alleges that the Trump Organization hid payments of perks worth $1.7 million over a 15-year period to the company’s Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg who evaded taxes on them.
Trump is himself not personally charged but the chargesheet said that an “unindicted co-conspirator” was also involved.
An unindicted co-conspirator is usually someone prosecutors believe is guilty but do not have enough information to charge the person who could later be named and added to the case if they can build the case.
Weisselberg is accused of evading taxes on $1.7 million he received in perks that included school fees for his grandchildren and car payments and flat rent, as well as furniture and TV sets for his home.
“This was a sweeping and audacious illegal payments scheme,” Carey Dunne, who appeared for the prosecution, told the court.
After two years of investigations into the businesses of Trump, state and city officials built their case with the help of Weisselberg’s former daughter-in-law, Jennifer, who had financial records allegedly showing the perks that he had not reported.
She is involved in a court battle with her former husband over the custody of their children following their divorce.
Weisselberg, who surrendered to authorities, was brought into court in handcuffs to face 15 charges including tax fraud and grand larceny (property theft) for which he could face prison terms of at least 15 years if convicted.
Trump’s companies could be hit with huge fines if found guilty and their hotel and hospitality could suffer a blow by losing their liquor licences.
A common tactic used by US prosecutors is to prosecute a person who may be able to provide evidence against their principal quarry in hopes that person would turn approver or agree to help the prosecution in return for leniency.
Weisselberg has so far stood firm unlike Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen who has cooperated with prosecutors after being prosecuted in connection with hush money paid to a porn star and a former adult film star who said they had affairs with Trump.
Cohen was convicted of tax fraud and election finance law violations and sentenced to three years.
The charges against the Trump Organization and its official came a week after the defeated President began holding public appearances, a visit to the border with Mexico to highlight the illegal immigration problem and a rally in Ohio.
Prosecutors in New York State are elected and Cyrus Vance, the prosecutor for Manhattan in New York City, won the election as a Democrat.
During Trump’s presidency, his opposition looked to Vance and New York Attorney General Letitia James, another elected Democrat, to investigate and prosecute him.
Federal prosecutors are appointed by the President.
Reacting to Weisselberg’s prosecution, Trump said in a statement: “Do people see the Radical Left prosecutors, and what they are trying to do to 75 million plus Voters and Patriots, for what it is?”
“If the name of the company was something else, I don’t think these charges would have been brought,” Trump Organization lawyer Alan Futerfas said.
James said that the New York State investigations into Trump and his organisation would continue.
State prosecutors were reportedly investigating whether Trump and his organisation had illegally inflated the value of some of the properties to get loans.