NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s company and its longtime finance chief were charged Thursday in what prosecutors called a “sweeping and audacious” tax fraud scheme in which the executive collected more than $1.7 million in off-the-books compensation, including apartment rent, car payments and school tuition.
Trump himself was not charged with any wrongdoing, but prosecutors noted he signed some of the checks at the center of the case. And one top prosecutor said the 15-year scheme was “orchestrated by the most senior executives” at the Trump Organization.
It is the first criminal case to come out of New York authorities’ two-year investigation into the former president’s business dealings.
According to the indictment, from 2005 through this year, the Trump Organization and Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg cheated tax authorities by conspiring to pay senior executives off the books by way of lucrative fringe benefits and other means.
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.
The most serious charge against Weisselberg, grand larceny, carries five to 15 years in prison. The tax fraud charges against the company are punishable by a fine of double the amount of unpaid taxes, or $250,000, whichever is larger.
The 73-year-old Weisselberg has intimate knowledge of the Trump Organization’s financial dealings from nearly five decades at the company. The charges against him could enable prosecutors to pressure him to cooperate with the investigation and tell them what he knows.
Both Weisselberg and lawyers for the Trump Organization pleaded not guilty. Weisselberg was ordered to surrender his passport and was released without bail.
In a statement, Trump condemned the case as a “political Witch Hunt by the Radical Left Democrats.” Weisselberg’s lawyers said he will “fight these charges.”
The case is being led by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and New York Attorney General Letitia James, both Democrats.
Vance has been investigating a wide range of matters involving Trump and the Trump Organization, such as hush-money payments made to women on Trump’s behalf and whether the company falsified the value of its properties to obtain loans or reduce its tax bills.
In announcing the grand jury indictment, Carey Dunne, the top prosecutor in the district attorney’s office, said: “Politics has no role in the jury chamber, and I can assure you it had no role here.”
The Trump Organization is the entity through which the former president manages his many ventures, including his investments in office towers, hotels and golf courses, his marketing deals and his TV pursuits. Trump’s sons Donald Jr. and Eric have been in charge of day-to-day operations since he became president.