Former President Donald Trump’s long-serving Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg just signed up to become the presumptive star witness in the upcoming criminal trial of Trump’s family business.
Weisselberg, 75, pleaded guilty to 15 felonies on Thursday morning, and admitted his role in helping the company compensate employees in ways that avoided taxes, including $1.76 million for himself. For now, Weisselberg will likely spend just 100 days in New York’s Riker’s Island jail complex. He’ll be officially sentenced after the late-October trial of Trump’s company.
In a hearing Thursday morning, a judge reminded Weisselberg that if he lies under oath to protect Trump’s company, or otherwise fails to abide by his plea agreement, he could face a much longer sentence—up to 15 years for the underlying crimes he just admitted committing.
If Weisselberg doesn’t keep his end of the bargain, “I would be at liberty to impose any lawful sentence which in your case includes imprisonment from five to 15 years,” Judge Juan Merchan told the money manager.
Weisselberg’s agreement calls for a five-month sentence with another five years’ probation. But good behavior may shorten the time served to about 100 days.
Prosecutors said Weisselberg effectively received $1.76 million in indirect compensation in ways that allowed him to avoid paying taxes. They said such benefits included rent, utilities, and garage expenses at a Riverside Boulevard apartment in Manhattan, multiple Mercedes Benzes, and tuition at an expensive private school for Weisselberg’s grandchildren.
“In one of the most difficult decisions of his life, Mr. Weisselberg decided to enter a plea of guilty today to put an end to this case and the years-long legal and personal nightmares it has caused for him and his family,” Weisselberg’s attorney Nicholas Gravante Jr. said in a statement on Thursday. “Rather than risk the possibility of 15 years in prison, he has agreed to serve 100 days. We are glad to have this behind him.”
Weisselberg’s new role as a key cooperator in the trial against the company where he’s worked for decades could tilt the upcoming criminal trial against the Trump Organization, given Weisselberg’s years of experience helping to run the business and deep knowledge of its practices.
“This plea agreement directly implicates the Trump Organization in a wide range of criminal activity and requires Weisselberg to provide invaluable testimony in the upcoming trial against the corporation,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement Thursday.
“We look forward to proving our case in court against the Trump Organization,” Bragg said.
Weisselberg’s cooperation deal stops short of forcing him to provide evidence against Trump personally, despite pressure from prosecutors for him to do so. Still, some legal experts following the case said Weisselberg’s cooperation deepens the company’s jeopardy ahead of its trial.
“The Weisselberg plea puts immense pressure on Trump Org,” tweeted Andrew Weissmann, a former prosecutor and member of the Mueller investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia. “And the public trial will expose it as a cesspool.”
The Trump Organization released a statement calling Weisselberg “a fine and honorable man who, for the past four years, has been harassed, persecuted, and threatened by law enforcement, particularly the Manhattan district attorney, in their never-ending, politically motivated quest to get President Trump.”
The statement continued: “In an effort to put this matter behind him and get on with his life, [Weisselberg] decided that the best course of action—for himself and his family—was to plead guilty.”
Trump is still facing an investigation by the same Manhattan prosecutor that negotiated Thursday’s plea deal with Weisselberg, and a parallel civil probe led by Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James.
Last week, Trump sat for a deposition with James in which he invoked his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination over 400 times.
In a statement, James said, “For years, Mr. Weisselberg broke the law to line his own pockets and fund a lavish lifestyle. Today, that misconduct ends. Let this guilty plea send a loud and clear message: We will crack down on anyone who steals from the public for personal gain because no one is above the law.”
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