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Former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg is focus at start of company's trial

Trump Organization goes on trial
Jury selection begins in Trump Organization criminal fraud trial 07:42

During opening arguments Monday in the Trump Organization's criminal fraud trial in New York, prosecutors painted the company's former chief financial officer as a key player in a company scheme to supplement his income with untaxed luxury benefits.

However, attorneys for the company said the former CFO, Allen Weisselberg — who in August entered a guilty plea in the case — was acting on his own, motivated by "individual personal greed." 

They said his actions hurt the Trump Organization, even though he "was like family to the Trump family."

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office charged Weisselberg and the company, through two corporate entities — the Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corporation — in 2021 with more than a dozen charges related to allegations certain executives were provided with untaxed "indirect employee compensation." Weisselberg entered a guilty plea in the case in August. The company maintains its innocence of all charges.

Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Susan Hoffinger said in her opening statement that Weisselberg's reported annual salary was $900,000, but with additional untaxed luxury perks and bonuses, that figure should have been more than $1 million. Hoffinger said the alleged scheme was a "win-win" for both executives and the company, which allegedly reduced its payroll liabilities. 

Weisselberg and other executives used a variety of methods to "hide" the benefits from tax authorities — and took extra precautions after Trump was elected president, Hoffinger said. 

"We all know that corporations aren't people, they cannot act or think on their own. Corporations operate through the people they authorize to act in their behalf....their high managerial agents," Hoffinger said.

A key figure in the alleged effort was the company's current controller, Jeffrey McConney, Hoffinger said. The company has denied that any of its current executives committed fraud or evaded taxes.

But Susan Necheles and Michael van der Veen, attorneys for the company, said Weisselberg was actually hiding that he wasn't paying taxes on benefits from the Trump Organization and the Trump family.

"He made no effort whatsoever to figure out whether he was benefiting or hurting the Trump Corporation, because he didn't care," Necheles said.

McConney was the first witness called by the government to the stand Monday. Under questioning he testified that his personal attorney is paid for by the Trump Organization, and that he met with the company's criminal defense attorneys on Sunday, among other occasions. 

Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass then asked Judge Juan Merchan to rule McConney an adverse witness, saying he "met with the defendant's attorneys while refusing to meet with us." The judge refused, saying McConney hadn't appeared to be evading any questions.

Weisselberg is expected to be called as a witness during the trial. Weisselberg entered a guilty plea in the case in August, and agreed to testify as part of his plea arrangement. He will be sentenced after the trial, which is expected to last up to six weeks.

The company's effort to distance itself from its longtime former CFO comes after a fraught week in which prosecutors and defense attorneys questioned dozens of potential jurors about whether they could separate Trump, in their minds, from the Trump Organization. The former president is not personally charged in the case.

The jury was seated "quicker than I expected," said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who was in the audience taking notes with pen and pad as opening statements began Monday. He added that the judge "is experienced and runs an efficient courtroom."

"Anything can happen during a trial," Bragg said.

Trump has said the charges stem from a "witch hunt" and accused Bragg, and his predecessor who launched the investigation, Cyrus Vance, of acting out of political animus.

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