On Thursday, former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg pleaded guilty, marking the most recent and significant milestone in New York authorities’ years-long probe into the corporation led by the former president.
Following his guilty plea on 15 charges of tax fraud, Weisselberg was sentenced to five months in prison and five years on probation. Almost $2 million in past taxes and penalties will also be added to his bill.
Weisselberg revealed to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office that he and other high-ranking Trump Organization officials had received illegal benefits and other forms of enrichment that had not been included in their tax returns as part of the plea agreement. Because of his indirect remuneration from the Trump Organization, he was able to avoid paying $1.7 million in taxes over the course of a decade.
In October, jury selection will begin in the case against the Trump Organization, and Weisselberg will be called to testify.
Although Weisselberg has not signed an agreement to collaborate, his evidence regarding financial irregularities perpetrated by the Trump Organization may be helpful to the prosecution, according to legal experts.
New York University School of Law professor of practice Andrew Weissmann has stated that the requirement that Weisselberg give accurate testimony in order to keep his arrangement in place makes it “far harder” for the Trump Organization to defend itself in its lawsuit.
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He explained that the group was able to take action because of its dedicated employees. As the CFO admits, “These are not crimes that are unrelated to the business, and the organization benefited directly from this.”
Weisselberg, according to Weissmann, who served as a lead prosecutor for special counsel Robert Mueller’s office in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, would have to provide all information he knows about other crimes, including those unrelated to those for which he and the organization have been charged, in order to fully cooperate.
A year ago, former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance initially filed charges against both Weisselberg and the Trump Organization. In January of this year, when Alvin Bragg assumed office as district attorney, he was given responsibility for the case.
Prosecutors have not ruled out filing criminal charges against Trump personally.
Weisselberg will need to take the stand and answer questions concerning the crimes he pleaded guilty to, thus Weissmann said he is “basically” participating with the inquiry.
He explained that by accepting the settlement, the defense was able to limit Weisselberg’s potential exposure to a harsher punishment. He speculated that the penalty could have been the same had Weisselberg been tried and found guilty, but admitted that it was difficult to say for sure in such a high-profile case.
According to Weissmann, the prosecution has won a major victory because Weisselberg has pled guilty to all charges against him.
The Trump Organization’s defense team may try to argue that Weisselberg is motivated to testify against the company, according to Danya Perry, a former federal prosecutor, but this would be difficult to prove given that Weisselberg received a five-month sentence and is not fully cooperating with the investigation.
She believes that Weisselberg, a first-time offender who is 75 years old, would not have received a “extremely” harsh sentence had he been convicted.
Perry claimed the former president’s name would come up frequently if the lawsuit against the group went to trial, and that it would be tough to “thread the needle” to prove the organization was involved in financial wrongdoing while he was not.
She speculated that the district attorney’s office would drop the matter altogether if the company reached a plea bargain, but admitted that it was impossible to predict what might be revealed at trial.
Who knows what else would be revealed if a trial were to take place with Weisselberg as a witness? This was a question that Perry had.
Weissmann said it is “common” for defense attorneys to ask for immunity from prosecution for any future offenses in a plea agreement, so the prosecutor can rest assured that “there’s nothing lying in the wings.”
He found the fact that it was left out of the agreement “striking,” and it gave him greater faith in Bragg’s claim that the investigation was still ongoing.
According to Weissmann, this revelation prompted a collective “deep breath” while everyone waited to see “what happens after the Trump Organization trial, and so if more charges get brought.”
Both Weissmann and Perry expressed curiosity about the fact that Weisselberg was not granted full immunity for any additional potential crimes.
Attorneys “often negotiate for covering or immunity for any other offenses he may have committed so they can’t keep coming back,” Perry said. “That’s not how it works around here.”