Manhattan DA's office says Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg can't just blame Michael Cohen to get his criminal charges dismissed
- The Manhattan DA's office asked a judge to make sure charges against the Trump Organization and CFO Allen Weisselberg stick.
- They said a grudge held by Michael Cohen isn't what spurred the investigation.
- Prosecutors conceded that one of the 15-counts in the indictment was filed too late.
Prosecutors for the Manhattan District Attorney's office have asked a New York judge to reject arguments from the Trump Organization and its CFO Allen Weisselberg to dismiss the pending criminal indictments against them.
In a 129-page court filing made public Monday, they argue that Weisselberg's and the company's claims don't pass legal muster and misrepresent the role that Michael Cohen, a former company executive and personal lawyer for Donald Trump, played in the investigation.
"This case, at its core, is ordinary," prosecutors wrote in the filing. "The Indictment is based on criminal tax evasion that took place in New York County and is of the sort this Office regularly prosecutes."
Prosecutors brought the 15-count criminal grand jury indictment in July , alleging Weisselberg and the Trump Organization fashioned a scheme that permitted him to avoid taxes on $1.7 million worth of income.
The new filing offers the most extensive look yet into the Manhattan DA probe of Trump's billion-dollar real estate and golf course business.
But it focuses only on the alleged executive payroll scheme. For Weisselberg — the only Trump executive charged — those income-tax-free payments allegedly included tuition for his grandkids, the use of luxury Trump apartments, and his-and-her Mercedes Benzes for him and his wife over the course of more than 15 years, the indictment said .
The top charge, second-degree grand larceny, alleges that by collecting some of his pay in undeclared gifts, Weisselberg saved — and thereby stole — $900,000 in federal income taxes since 2005. The charge carries anywhere from zero jail time to 15 years in prison.
"Allen Weisselberg violated the basic imperative that all New Yorkers faithfully report and pay tax on their income," prosecutors wrote in the new filing, originally submitted to court on Friday but not made public until now. "While such self-reporting typically is verified by an employer's tax reporting procedures, in this case, Defendants corrupted those procedures."
Prosecutors say a Bloomberg investigation, not Michael Cohen, triggered the charges
Lawyers for Weisselberg and the company asked the judge overseeing the case in February to dismiss the charges . They argued that the case was a politically motivated "selective prosecution," and that it was improperly spurred by Cohen, who they argued had a "vendetta" against Weisselberg. Cohen has held a grudge against Weisselberg ever since the CFO provided grand jury testimony that led federal prosecutors to bring charges against him in 2018, for an unrelated scheme, they said.
The new response from prosecutors redacts Cohen's name, as well as the name of Allen Weisselberg's former daughter-in-law Jennifer Weisselberg . Both Cohen and Jennifer Weisselberg, however, have previously told Insider they sat with investigators in the Manhattan District Attorney's office to discuss the case numerous times. Their identities are clear in the new filing despite the redactions.
In a new filing, Assistant District Attorney Solomon Shinerock laid out a different sequence of events.
The Manhattan DA's office already had an ongoing, unrelated investigation into the Trump Organization, Shinerock wrote. According to Shinerock, in September 2019 a source told investigators about a conversation where Jennifer Weisselberg said the Trump Organization provided "cash, school tuition, and housing" to her and her former husband, though prosecutors didn't look into those issues at the time. It was only after a set of articles published by Bloomberg in November 2020 about those untaxed benefits, using Jennifer Weisselberg as a source, that prosecutors looked into it, Shinerock wrote.
"As set forth in the Shinerock Affirmation, a Bloomberg article published nearly two and a half years after Weisselberg's testimony prompted the Office to expand an existing investigation to include the conduct for which Weisselberg now stands indicted," the Monday filing said.
The Manhattan DA's motion said that Weisselberg's leaps of logic about the roots of the investigation are simply wrong.
"Weisselberg asks the Court to assume that his 2018 testimony led to [Cohen's] federal indictment; that [Cohen] was angry at him, or at least needed to provide evidence against him to obtain a more favorable federal sentence; and in turn, that [Cohen] caused the Office to investigate Weisselberg's crimes underlying this Indictment and provided some unspecified information that was somehow used in the Investigation," prosecutors wrote.
The Manhattan DA's office conceded that one charge should be dropped
The prosecutors agreed that the fourth charge, for criminal tax evasion, should be dropped against Weisselberg, conceding that they missed the statutory deadline, but they argued it should stick with regard to the Trump Organization.
They also alleged that the charges are much more substantial than a "fringe benefits" case that the defense lawyers have described. The intermingling of personal and business finances, they said, remains "unusual."
"The nature and magnitude of the non-cash compensation employees received under the indicted scheme — the payment of rent, utilities, and garage expenses at luxury apartment buildings, private school tuition for family members, leases for luxury cars for both employees and their spouses, large amounts of unreported cash, and ad hoc expenses such as electronics and furniture — are entirely different than the typical fringe benefit such as a turkey for the holidays," they argued.
The filing makes no mention of additional defendants or charges. Strings left tantalizingly dangling in the original Trump Organization-Weisselberg indictment remain at loose ends.
Lacking are any references to other Trump Organization executives who also "devised and operated" the scheme, as alleged in the indictment.
Yet the filing breathes new life into the Manhattan DA's investigation, which had appeared to be winding down ever since Alvin Bragg took over as Manhattan District Attorney in January.
Insider previously reported that, by last year, the Manhattan DA's 3-year probe into the Trump Organization had focused tightly on potential criminal charges against former President Donald Trump himself.
After that effort ground to a stop in February, there was little teed up in the way of other targets or charges, sources had said.
A separate, parallel investigation, spearheaded by New York Attorney General Letitia James, has appeared to gain steam in recent weeks.
During a recent court hearing, a lawyer from James' office said the New York attorney general had collected a "substantial" amount of evidence that could support a civil enforcement action. The comment came as the New York attorney general's office fended off a bid by Trump's legal team to end the three-year inquiry into the financial practices of the Trump Organization.
Defending the validity of the investigation, assistant New York attorney general Andrew Amer said the inquiry arose not out of any political animus against Trump but rather out of the congressional testimony of Michael Cohen, the former Trump lawyer and fixer who called the former president a "con man" and a "cheat" in a 2019 appearance before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
James said in January that her office had "uncovered significant evidence that suggests Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organization falsely and fraudulently valued multiple assets and misrepresented those values to financial institutions for economic benefit."
Lawyers for Trump have argued on both fronts that the attorney general's and district attorney's investigations have been politically motivated and unfairly intermingled, since some of James's lawyers have been cross-designated to work on the DA case.
The Monday filing, too, rejects that argument, saying James has no power to shape the DA investigation.
"This Office did not seek input from AG James, nor was she ever a decision maker on the case in any capacity," prosecutors wrote.
Trump recently paid a $110,000 fine after a New York state judge found him in contempt for failing to turn over records to James' office.
Payment of the fine was one of several conditions New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron set for lifting the contempt order against Trump.
Correction : A previous version of this article erroneously characterized Jennifer Weisselberg and Michael Cohen's participation in the Manhattan DA investigation. The article's description of the individual who told investigators about fringe benefits has been changed to match court records.Read the original article on Business Insider