We have now had a few days to try to absorb the Manhattan District Attorney’s indictment against the Trump Organization and CFO Allen Weisselberg. Here are some takeaways from what could be the beginning of the end for the Trump Organization.
These are serious criminal charges for Weisselberg and the Trump Organization.
These are serious criminal charges for Weisselberg and the Trump Organization. The indictment alleges a 15-year criminal scheme involving deep-seated and systematic fraud aimed at providing unofficial compensation for the purpose of evading federal, state and New York City taxes. From 2005 to June 30, 2021 (the day before the indictment was unsealed), Weisselberg reportedly received more than $ 1.7 million in compensation that was hidden in a second set of company books. This would have allowed him to evade tax – or, in a very real sense, steal from taxpaying citizens – $ 550,000 in federal taxes, $ 106,000 in New York State taxes, and $ 240,000 in New York State taxes. New York City taxes. Indeed, one of the 15 charges against Weisselberg is theft for theft of taxpayer money.
Weisselberg pleaded not guilty.
There are several clues in the indictment that others are cooperating against Weisselberg and the Trump Organization. One of the clues is pretty obvious: The indictment says Weisselberg lied to his tax preparer about his New York resident status. It is never a good sign when a defendant’s tax preparer appears to be cooperating with prosecutors. In addition, one of the charges relates to a “fourth degree conspiracy”. Since a conspiracy involves a criminal agreement between two or more people, there is at least one co-conspirator who has yet to be charged.
Another disturbing sign is that the indictment refers to “Unaccused Co-Conspirator # 1”. CNN reported that it is a reference to the Controller of the Trump Organization, Jeffrey McConney. As the company’s controller, McConney is said to have worked closely with Weisselberg. And he may have, at a minimum, been familiar with both sets of financial books. McConney testified before the New York grand jury earlier this month and therefore enjoys immunity (New York law provides that anyone who appears before the grand jury is automatically granted immunity from prosecution). Assuming McConney testified about the crimes of Weisselberg and the Trump Organization, it creates problems for both.
There are also several indicators that other criminal charges will follow. In May, District Attorney Cy Vance called a special six-month grand jury to hear evidence in connection with the Trump inquiry. Usually, New York grand juries only sit for four weeks. Vance’s special grand jury will continue to serve until november and it’s hard to believe that this indictment, issued at the start of their six-month special warrant, will be their only indictment. Additionally, New York State Attorney General Letitia James, who partnered with Vance in the Trump investigation, made it clear after the indictment was released that their investigation was continuing.
One of the more intriguing revelations in the indictment notes that in addition to Weisselberg, “two other employees received substantial amounts of compensation in the form of housing in New York and payment of automobile rents.” . Logically, these two anonymous employees of the Trump Organization may have committed the same crimes for which Weisselberg has just been charged. Whichever way you break it up, this language about “two other employees” signals that future indictments are likely.
Some have suggested that this case was all about “social benefits” (allegedly illegal) – and therefore not deserving of prosecution. Common sense and real-world experience belies this claim. An added bonus could be that your boss gives you a nice crate of booze while on vacation. In contrast, Vance claims part of what the Trump organization distributed included $ 360,000 in unofficial money to pay for private tuition fees for members of the Weisselberg family and $ 200,000 paid to Weisselberg and his wife so they could get around in high-end Mercedes vehicles. It is ridiculous for anyone to claim that this is a matter of inconsequential benefits.
All that being said, it’s unclear how much jail time Weisselberg could actually be sentenced if convicted. It is true that the indictment contains 15 charges. However, in typical prosecution practice, a criminal act can violate the law in several ways. When I teach my criminal justice students at George Washington University, I use the following scenario to illustrate this point: If I walk up to someone on the street, punch them, and grab their wallet, I look at myself. am essentially engaged in a criminal act. However, I would likely be charged with three separate crimes: assault for the punch, robbery for taking property by force, and theft of the wallet itself. However, if I were found guilty, I would likely be sentenced to only one period of incarceration for the three different crimes. This is called concurrent sentences (as opposed to consecutive sentences).
This same principle is at play in Weisselberg’s indictment. The most serious charge for Weisselberg is second-degree robbery, carrying a maximum penalty of 15 years. However, this is also an offense eligible for probation (without mandatory jail time). A judge is likely to land in the middle, but given Weisselberg’s lack of criminal history, age, and other factors, the likelihood of a long prison sentence is low.
Despite everything, at 73, Weisselberg will have to ask himself whether he is ready to spend eight, five or even three years in prison, rather than turning against his boss Donald Trump. I have often seen people refuse to return before they see their name on the high-profile accused list in a major indictment. But when Weisselberg saw the caption “The People of New York State vs. Allen Weisselberg,” things probably got very real. Considering my 30-year career as a prosecutor, I claim the chances of cooperation have increased due to Thursday’s indictment.
Still, at 73, Weisselberg will have to consider whether he’s ready to spend eight, five, or even three years in prison, rather than turning on his boss.
And what could this indictment do to the Trump Organization itself? The direct consequences involve financial penalties and fines that could be imposed upon conviction. Besides any possible monetary impact, the collateral consequences could be worse if customers cancel contracts and banks refuse to lend money or, worse yet, call on existing loans that the Trump Organization cannot satisfy. It suffices to recall how, during the Enron scandal, the accounting firm Arthur Andersen was convicted of one count of obstructing justice and shortly after folded. The same fate could happen to the Trump Organization.
Finally, there is the reality that a the former US president has never been charged. Today, the decades-old organization of a former president – his namesake – has been criminally indicted. It is not the same as an indictment against Trump personally. But given that he is a notorious micromanager who often boasted to be intimately involved in and responsible for all the operations (and alleged successes) of the Trump organization, it’s pretty darn close.
Trump has been investigated (think Robert Mueller) and is currently under investigation (think the DOJ, Georgia and New York State) for a number of alleged crimes. The first prosecutor to charge him personally will face an uphill battle, not to mention a close, intense and prolonged scrutiny. However, once that particular barrier is broken, it may very well open the floodgates for other prosecutor’s offices to flow into Trump’s indictment pool. We’ll have to wait and see if the indictment of the Trump Organization and its CFO has significantly warmed the waters of presidential accountability – at least a few degrees.