NEW YORK — The Trump Organization’s longtime finance chief told jurors on Tuesday that he saved Donald Trump’s company hundreds of thousands of dollars by plotting to evade taxes on benefits paid by the business, including an apartment in Manhattan and luxury cars.
Allen Weisselberg, making his long-awaited turn as star prosecution witness, said he deducted the cost of the extras from his salary as it cost the company about half of what he should have give him a raise to cover those expenses.
Weisselberg pleaded guilty in August to tax evasion on $1.7 million in employee benefits. His plea deal requires him to testify against the company in exchange for a five-month prison sentence.
In his testimony, Weisselberg described Trump as a practical leader before his election to the White House in 2016, but did not implicate him in any wrongdoing.
He said Trump encouraged him to move into a company-paid apartment in 2005 and signed a lease for the property. He also said that Trump allowed him and his wife to receive Mercedes-Benz cars, whose leases were paid for by the Trump Organization.
Weisselberg, the company’s senior adviser and former chief financial officer, has intimate knowledge of its financial dealings from his nearly five decades working there. But he is not expected to implicate Trump or members of the Trump family in his testimony.
Weisselberg will remain free on bail until he is formally convicted following the company’s trial.
The Trump Organization, the entity through which the former president manages his real estate, marketing deals and other businesses, is accused of helping some senior executives avoid paying taxes on the salaries they have received in addition to their salaries over a period of 15 years.
Prosecutors argue that the Trump Organization — through its Trump Corp. and Trump Payroll Corp. — is responsible for the scheme because Weisselberg, the longtime chief financial officer, was a “senior executive officer” tasked with acting on behalf of the company and its various entities.
In pleading guilty, the 75-year-old Weisselberg blamed himself and other senior company executives, including vice president and comptroller Jeffrey McConney, who testified during the first five days of the trial.
The Trump Organization has denied any wrongdoing. His lawyers allege Weisselberg concocted the scheme on his own, without the knowledge of Trump or the Trump family, and say the company did not benefit from his actions. If convicted, the company could be fined more than $1 million.
Lawyers for the company spent part of the court hearings on Monday and Tuesday trying to preempt Weisselberg’s testimony, using their cross-examination to underscore their claim that other members of the company, including Trump, do not knew nothing of the scheme.
The first two prosecution witnesses — McConney and the company’s accounts payable supervisor Deborah Tarasoff — described Weisselberg as a rogue agent who insisted on the secrecy of his various financial arrangements.
Both witnesses worked under Weisselberg and said they helped him hide his benefits, telling jurors they were just following orders. Tarasoff agreed with a defense attorney’s description of Weisselberg as a demanding, authoritarian but deeply trustworthy micromanager.
Tarasoff said she prepared company checks for Weisselberg to pay her apartment rent and car rental payments. She said she prepared checks from Trump’s private account to pay tuition for Weisselberg’s grandchildren.
In September 2016, as Trump’s presidential election approached, Tarasoff said Weisselberg ordered him to start deleting notes on some of the transactions in the company’s accounting system. Tarasoff said she didn’t think Weisselberg was asking her to do anything illegal. But even if he had, she said, “I guess I would because he’s the boss and he told me to do it.”
Weisselberg is the only person to face criminal charges so far in the Manhattan District Attorney’s investigation into the company.
Weisselberg started working for the company in 1973, when it was run by Trump’s father, Fred. After his arrest in July 2021, the company changed his title from chief financial officer to senior adviser. The position of Chief Financial Officer remains vacant.
Prosecutors alleged that the Trump Organization provided untaxed benefits to senior executives, including Weisselberg, for 15 years. Weisselberg alone was charged with defrauding the federal government, state, and city out of more than $900,000 in unpaid taxes and undeserved tax refunds.