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Trumps are real victims in Trump Organization fraud case, defense attorneys claim – Mother Jones

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Opening statements began on Monday in the criminal trial to find out whether the Trump Organization had committed tax evasion, and lawyers representing the former president’s companies immediately clarified their strategy: throw longtime CFO Allen Weisselberg under the bus, again and again .

“Weisselberg did it for Weissleberg!” Michael van der Veen, an attorney representing Trump’s payroll company, yelled at the jurors.

Last summer, then-Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. indicted Weisselberg and two of Trump’s companies for allegedly devising a scheme to hide hundreds of thousands of dollars in “official” compensation. for Weisselberg and other employees. Prosecutors say the companies paid the compensation in the form of benefits such as apartments, luxury cars and tuition at private schools for Weisselberg’s grandchildren and that none of it has been reported to New York or the federal tax authorities.

Weisselberg pleaded guilty in August to 15 counts, including theft, fraud and tax evasion. He admitted that he cheated on his taxes and helped the Trump Organization pay him more without being hit with higher taxes. As prosecutors explained in court on Monday, if the Trump Organization gave Weisselberg a $100,000 raise and reported the full figure as his income, he would lose 50% in taxes, but if the company offered him an apartment or a luxury car. , or just envelopes of cash (which he would have done), he could keep the entire amount by not disclosing it to the tax authorities. The company would benefit from being able to give Weisselberg a more modest raise, confident that he would keep more of it because it was not going to be taxed. Weisselberg agreed to testify against his employer, but notably not against Donald Trump personally. Trump himself has not been charged in the case.

On Monday, prosecutors told jurors the case was fairly straightforward, open and closed.

“This case is about greed and cheating – tax evasion,” prosecutor Susan Hoffinger told jurors in her opening statement.

Weisselberg did it, he did it on purpose, and he did it to help himself and his employer, prosecutors said.

But, in their opening statements, attorneys for the two Trump-owned companies facing charges denounced Weisselberg and even suggested that, if anything, Donald Trump might be the real victim of the whole scheme. Weisselberg has worked for Trump for nearly 50 years and was like family, Trump’s lawyers said. They argued that Weisselberg abused that trust and betrayed the Trump family.

“Given the decades he was there and the projects he was working on and the fact that he was with this family when times were good and when times weren’t so good, everyone trusted him, we trusted him to protect this business,” van der Veen told jurors. “He was like family to the Trump family, and no employee was more trustworthy than him, but he made mistakes.”

And apparently no one was more surprised by Weisselberg’s crimes than the Trumps, who, according to Trump’s lawyers, only discovered Weisselberg’s tax evasion when the indictments were handed down last July. .

“You were all here during jury selection and heard the prosecutor repeatedly claim that Donald Trump was involved or even knew what Allen Weissleberg was doing,” van der Veen said. “You will learn that Mr. Weisselberg hid what he was doing from the company and the owners of the companies.”

One of the difficulties Trump’s lawyers will have to overcome is that Weisselberg remains in the employ of the Trump Organization, which could lead jurors to doubt the idea that the Trumps were shocked to discover his alleged betrayal. But, in his opening argument, van der Veen suggested that the reason for the continued close relationship is simply that the Trumps are such decent people.

“Since his crimes were discovered, he has been treated like a close family member who has made serious, even criminal, mistakes,” van der Veen said. “We all know the biblical story of the prodigal son – a man who put his own personal goals and desires ahead of those of his family – and when it all falls apart, he is taken up by the same family and allowed to move on. ‘before.”

Van der Veen noted that Weisselberg is on paid leave but added that “his ability to financially support his family has not been stripped.”

The interpretation of events offered by van der Veen and the other defense attorneys also contrasts somewhat with how the Trumps themselves have described what is happening in the case. In a recent post on his Truth Social app, Donald Trump said prosecutors “tortured” Weisselberg and charged him, even though “No such ‘benefits’ case has ever been brought as a criminal (? ) In the United States, and just during the important Midterm Elections, of course!

In court, Trump’s lawyers forcefully told jurors that the only thing they agreed on was that tax fraud had been committed. But they argued that while Donald Trump personally signed checks for some of the benefits Weisselberg received — like tuition for his grandchildren’s private school — it was Weisselberg alone who bore the cost. responsibility.

“Allen Weisselberg admitted to cheating on his taxes, his taxes!” van der Veen shouted in court on Monday, banging his fist on the podium.