Former US President Donald Trump’s property business has been convicted of tax fraud over a scheme by top executives to avoid paying personal income taxes on perks such as apartments and luxury cars.
Longtime Trump Organization finance chief Allen Weisselberg previously pleaded guilty to hatching the 15-year scheme. He testified at the trial in exchange for a promised five-month jail sentence.
The guilty verdict on Tuesday came on the second day of deliberations in the only criminal trial to arise from the Manhattan district attorney's three-year investigation of the former president and his businesses.
The jury found two corporate entities at the Trump Organization guilty on all 17 counts, including charges of conspiracy and falsifying business records. Trump himself was not on trial.
The conviction was validation for New York authorities who say their three-year investigation into Trump and his businesses is continuing. The probe, which began as an inquiry into hush-money payments made on Trump’s behalf, later morphed into an examination of the company’s asset valuation and pay practices.
“A former president’s companies now stand convicted of crimes. That is consequential,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said outside the courtroom. “It underscores that in Manhattan we have one standard of justice for all."
Trump, a Republican who launched his 2024 campaign last month during the trial, blasted the verdict as a part of a Democrat-led “MANHATTAN WITCH HUNT!”
“This case is unprecedented and involved no monetary gain to these two Corporations,” Trump said in a statement, adding: “New York City is a hard place to be ‘Trump.’”
The Manhattan case against the Trump Organization was built largely around testimony from the company’s former finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, who previously pleaded guilty to charges that he manipulated the company’s books to illegally reduce his taxes on $1.7 million in fringe benefits. He testified in exchange for a promised five-month jail sentence.
To convict the Trump Organization, prosecutors had to convince jurors that Weisselberg or an underling he worked with on the scheme was a “high managerial” agent acting on the company’s behalf and that the company also benefited.
Trump Organization lawyers repeated the mantra “Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg” throughout the monthlong trial, contending that he had gone rogue and betrayed the company’s trust. Weisselberg attempted to take responsibility on the witness stand, saying nobody in the Trump family knew what he was doing.
“It was my own personal greed that led to this,” an emotional Weisselberg testified.
But prosecutor Joshua Steinglass alleged in his closing that Trump “knew exactly what was going on” and was “explicitly sanctioning tax fraud.”
The verdict adds to mounting legal woes for Trump, who faces a criminal investigation in Washington over the retention of top-secret documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate, as well as efforts to undo the results of the 2020 presidential election.
The company faces a fine of up to $US1.6 million. Sentencing is scheduled for January 13, 2023. The defence said it will appeal.