By MICHAEL R. SISAK
NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s company was convicted of tax fraud Tuesday for helping executives avoid taxes on lavish perks like Manhattan apartments and luxury cars, in a sweeping repudiation of financial practices in former president’s business.
A jury found two corporate entities within the Trump Organization guilty on all 17 counts, including conspiracy charges and falsifying business records. Trump himself was not on trial. The verdict came on the second day of deliberations.
The conviction is a vindication for New York prosecutors, who have spent three years investigating the former president and his dealings.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said the verdict “underscores that in Manhattan we have a standard of justice for all.”
As punishment, the Trump Organization could be fined up to $1.6 million — a relatively small sum for a company of its size, although the conviction could complicate some of its future dealings.
Trump, who recently announced he would run for president again, said the case against his company was part of a politically motivated “witch hunt.” Speaking outside court, Trump Organization attorney Alan Futerfas vowed to appeal.
The verdict adds to already mounting legal problems for Trump, who is facing a criminal investigation in Washington for keeping secret documents at his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, as well as efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
These investigations are being led by a newly appointed Justice Department special counsel. The district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, is also leading an investigation into attempts by Trump and his allies to overturn his loss in that state.
Although Trump himself has not been charged, the verdict marks yet another setback for the former president, who has faced a series of self-inflicted crises since launching his third campaign for the White House last month.
This includes anger over his dinner with a Holocaust-denying white nationalist and the anti-Semitic rapper formerly known as Kanye West, and an authoritarian call by Trump to “end all rules, regulations and articles, even those found in the Constitution” claims its baseless allegations of mass electoral fraud.
The Manhattan district attorney’s case against the Trump Organization was built largely on the testimony of the company’s former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, who previously pleaded guilty to charges that he manipulated company records and his own compensation package to illegally reduce his taxes.
Weisselberg testified in exchange for a promised five-month prison sentence.
To convict the Trump Organization, prosecutors had to convince jurors that Weisselberg or his underling, senior vice president and controller Jeffrey McConney, were “high-level” agents acting on behalf of the company and that the company also benefited from his scheme .
Attorneys for the Trump Organization repeated the mantra “Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg” throughout the month-long trial. They claimed the director had gone rogue and betrayed the company’s trust. No one in the Trump family or the company was to blame, they argued.
After Tuesday’s verdict, a lawyer for the company, Susan Necheles, repeated that argument.
“Why would a corporation whose owner knew nothing about Weisselberg’s personal tax returns be prosecuted for Allen Weisselberg’s personal conduct over which he had no visibility or oversight? This case was unprecedented and legally incorrect,” she said.
Although he testified as a prosecution witness, Weisselberg also tried to take responsibility on the witness stand, saying no one in the Trump family knew what he was doing.
“It was my own personal greed that led to this,” an emotional Weisselberg confessed.
Manhattan prosecutors alleged that the former president “knew exactly what was going on” with the scheme, although he and the company’s lawyers denied this.
Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty to avoiding taxes on $1.7 million in fringe benefits, testified that he and McConney conspired to hide that extra compensation from his earnings by deducting their cost from his pretax pay and issuing forms Falsified W-2s.
During his closing argument, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass tried to refute the claim that Trump knew nothing about the scheme. He showed jurors a lease Trump signed for Weisselberg’s company-paid apartment and a note Trump initialed authorizing a pay cut for another executive who received benefits.
“Mr. Trump explicitly sanctions tax fraud,” Steinglass argued.
The verdict does not end Trump’s battle with Bragg, a Democrat who took office in January.
The prosecutor’s office said an investigation into the former president, which began under his predecessor, District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., is “active and ongoing.”
In that wide-ranging probe, investigators examined whether Trump misled banks and others about the value of his real estate, golf courses and other assets — allegations that are at the center of the ongoing New York attorney general’s lawsuit. Letitia James, v. the former president and his company.
Prosecutors are also investigating whether any laws were broken when Trump allies made payments to two women who claimed they had sex with the Republican years ago.
Near the end of his term last year, Vance ordered lawmakers to present evidence to a grand jury for a possible indictment of Trump. After taking office, however, Bragg let that grand jury disband so he could take a fresh look at the case.
On Monday, he confirmed that a new lead prosecutor had been hired to handle that investigation, signaling again that it was still active.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.