Allen Weisselberg, Trump Organization financial chief, pleads guilty to tax fraud | Donald Trump | The Guardian

Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer of Donald Trump’s company and one of his most trusted executives, pleaded guilty to tax violations on Thursday, further complicating the former president’s legal woes.

Weisselberg, 75, has worked for the Trump family for five decades. He was charged with accepting more than $1.7m in off-the-books compensation from the former president’s company, including untaxed perks like rent, car payments and school tuition.

Quizzed repeatedly by judge Juan Merchan about whether he and the Trump Organization had committed criminal conduct in relation to the charges, Weisselberg repeated again and again: “Yes, your honor.”

Weisselberg pleaded guilty to 15 charges and faced a 15-year sentence. Under the agreement, he is expected to serve a five-month prison term at New York’s notorious Rikers Island jail. He will also have to pay back close to $2m in taxes he owed, prosecutors said in court.

The Trump Organization is preparing to go to trial in October, facing similar charges of illicit business practices, and as part of the agreement, Weisselberg has agreed to testify against the company. He has refused to testify against Trump himself.

The Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, whose office brought the charges, said Weisselberg used his position at the Trump Organization to “bilk taxpayers and enrich himself”.

“Instead of paying his fair share like everyone else, Weisselberg had the Trump Organization provide him with a rent-free apartment, expensive cars, private school tuition for his grandchildren and new furniture – all without paying required taxes.”

Bragg said the plea agreement “directly implicates the Trump Organization in a wide range of criminal activity and requires Weisselberg to provide invaluable testimony in the upcoming trial against the corporation.

“We look forward to proving our case in court against the Trump Organization,” he said.

Weisselberg’s guilty plea adds to a whirlwind of legal problems now surrounding the former president.

The justice department is investigating whether Trump violated the Espionage Act by storing top secret documents at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida home. This week, Trump’s former attorney Rudy Giuliani testified before a grand jury in Georgia, where he is a target of a criminal investigation related to efforts to invalidate Joe Biden’s electoral victory in the state. And in September the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection will reconvene its hearings amid charges that Trump incited a mob to attack the Capitol in an attempt to delay or stop certification of Joe Biden’s election win.

Seen as one of Trump’s most loyal business associates, Weisselberg was arrested in July 2021. Weisselberg began working for Trump’s father, Fred Trump, in 1973 and no one outside the Trump family knows more about its business. “They are like Batman and Robin,” Jennifer Weisselberg, the ex-wife of Allen Weisselberg’s son Barry, told the New York Times.

Prosecutors alleged that the company gave untaxed fringe benefits to senior executives, including Weisselberg, for 15 years. Weisselberg alone was accused of defrauding the federal government, state and city out of more than $900,000 in unpaid taxes and undeserved tax refunds.

Under state law, punishment for the most serious charge against Weisselberg, grand larceny, could have carried a penalty as high as 15 years in prison. But the charge carries no mandatory minimum, and most first-time offenders in tax-related cases never end up behind bars.

The tax fraud charges against the Trump Organization are punishable by a fine of double the amount of unpaid taxes, or $250,000, whichever is larger.

Trump has not been charged in the criminal investigation. The Republican has decried the New York investigations as a “political witch-hunt” and has said his company’s actions were standard practice in the real estate business and in no way a crime.

Last week, Trump sat for a deposition in the parallel civil investigation by the New York attorney general, Letitia James, into allegations that Trump’s company misled lenders and tax authorities about asset values. Trump invoked his fifth amendment protection against self-incrimination more than 400 times.

Weisselberg said nothing as he left court, offering no reply when a journalist asked him whether he had any message for Trump.

Weisselberg’s lawyer, Nicholas Gravante, said his client pleaded guilty “to put an end to this case and the years-long legal and personal nightmares it has caused for him and his family”.

“We are glad to have this behind him,” the lawyer added.

Associated Press contributed to this article