THE Trump Organization and Allen Weisselberg pleaded not guilty over an alleged 15-year tax fraud scheme after the CFO arrived at court in handcuffs.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is planning to present formal charges against Weisselberg – who worked for the company for 48 years – on Thursday after a grand jury heard evidence and moved to indict him.
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The charges against the Trump Organization and Weisselberg are reportedly linked to the company showering its top executives with lavish perks such as apartments, cars and prep school tuition.
Arriving at the courtroom later that day, Weisselberg, 73, was seen with his hands cuffed behind his back with a face mask on.
According to the indictment from 2005 through this year Weisselberg and the company cheated the state and city out of taxes by conspiring to pay senior executives off the books.
Prosecutor Carey Dunne described a 15-year scheme "orchestrated by the most senior executives," including Weisselberg, that was "sweeping and audacious."
Trump himself was not charged at this stage of the investigation, jointly pursued by Vance and New York Attorney General Letitia James, both Democrats, and Dunne asserted politics played no role in the decision to bring charges.
"Politics has no role in the jury chamber and I can assure you it had no role here," Dunne said.
During the hearing, Weisselberg was forced to hand over his passport as attorneys believe he is a flight risk.
Vance told the courtroom that he has "digital drives that relate to much of the described" as well as "statements from potential witnesses and statements from the grand jury."
Both the Trump Organization and Weisselberg entered pleas of not guilty, with the finance boss leaving the building uncuffed. He was released without having to post bail.
Weisselberg turned himself in at the district attorney's office at roughly 6.20am this morning, accompanied by his lawyer Mary Mulligan.
In a statement on Weisselberg's behalf, Mulligan said: "Mr Weisselberg intends to plead not guilty and he will fight these charges in court."
Following the news, the Trump Organization issued a statement praising the finance mogul as "loving and devoted" before slamming the DA.
"He is now being used by the Manhattan District Attorney as a pawn in a scorched earth attempt to harm the former President," the statement read.
"The District Attorney is bringing a criminal prosecution involving employee benefits that neither the IRS nor any other District Attorney would ever think of bringing. This is not justice; this is politics."
Eric Trump, the former president's 37-year-old son and executive vice president of the family business, called the indictment "an absolute abuse of power and a political vendetta" in conversation with the Daily Mail.
"They are petrified my father will run again in 2024," he added. "After five years, hundreds of subpoenas, three and a half million pages of documents, and dozens of witnesses, this is what they have?"
While the trusted Trump lieutenant is expected to face legal troubles in court, former President Donald Trump is not expected to be charged on Thursday.
“There is no indictment coming down this week against the former president,” Ron Fischetti, a Trump Organization lawyer told the AP.
But he cautioned Trump may still be in the criminal crosshairs of DA Vance.
“I can’t say he’s out of the woods yet completely,” he said.
Hearing of Weisselberg's indictment, Trump was reportedly "thrilled" by the "light charges" and immediately started thinking about a 2024 run, a former aide told Politco.
"Just wait until 2024, you'll see," Trump reportedly said, before insisting that the the legal case would be seen as a political witch hunt. "This is going to hurt Sleepy Joe."
This week, Trump called the conduct under question at his namesake company are "things that are standard practice throughout the U.S. business community, and in no way a crime," the Wall Street Journal reported.
Weisselberg used to work in accounting under Trump's father Fred's tenure back in the 1970s before he died back in 1999.
He managed a prized ice rink in the heart of Central Park and chief financial officer, served as vice president of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts in 2000 and was a board member and treasurer of the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
He became a focus of the probe when investigators discovered he allegedly let his son have access to a Trump apartment without paying much or anything for it, according to the AP.
The indictment is a major turning point for the investigation that has been spearheaded by both Vance and New York State Attorney General Letitia James.
Part of their inquiry has been to question Weisselberg's ex-wife, Jennifer Weisselberg, who turned over stacks of tax records and other documents to investigators.
“They are like Batman and Robin,” she recalled in an interview with the New York Times.
“They’re a team. They’re not best friends. They don’t spend all their time together, but the world became so insular for Allen that he did not know anything else.”
Her lawyer confirmed that she has been cooperating.
“We have been working with prosecutors for many months now as part of this tax and financial investigation and have provided a large volume of evidence that allowed them to bring these charges,” attorney Duncan Levin, told the AP.
“We are gratified to hear that the DA’s office is moving forward with a criminal case.”
The Weisselbergs decamped from their Long Island home to a glitzy Trump-building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side where they apparently didn't pay any rent for years, according to the Times.
Weisselberg also plunked down money on a South Florida home nooked near Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and hopped on Trump's private jet on varius weekends.
He then brought his son Barry into the company to help manage the Wollman Rink in Central Park and brought his musical skills to company Christmas parties as a DJ, the Times reported.
He also appeared in one episode of the television hit reality show “The Apprentice".
Prosecutors are also looking at the tax irregularities of former Trump bodyguard, Matthew Calamari.
The protector was promoted to chief operating officer while his son became company’s corporate director of security, the AP reported.
His attorney was confident the Calimaris were in the clear and wouldn't get charged in the sweeping probe.
“Although the DA’s investigation obviously is ongoing, I do not expect charges to be filed against either of my clients at this time,” Nicholas Gravante told the AP.
Grand jury witnesses are granted immunity and cannot be charged for the potentially illegal conduct they testify about, according to New York state law.
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