The first charges in the Trump Organization investigation were all about CFO Allen Weisselberg.
Prosecutors’ laserlike focus on Weisselberg indicates he’s still key to nailing Donald Trump himself.
Experts say they wouldn’t be surprised if additional indictments, filed against more people, alleged more serious crimes.
This month’s 15-count indictment against the Trump Organization and its CFO, Allen Weisselberg, puzzled some observers of the Manhattan district attorney’s long-running investigation into the company’s finances.
Why hadn’t prosecutors indicted Donald Trump himself? Prosecutors only went as far as referencing the ex-president in the indictment and criticizing him in court.
And what about the bigger allegations the DA’s office is reportedly investigating, including the two sets of books the company is said to keep to lower its tax bill while getting good loan rates? Or that Stormy Daniels hush-money payment?
The July 1 grand jury indictment accused Weisselberg and the Trump Organization of participating in a scheme where Weisselberg took in $1.7 million of tax-free compensation over the course of 15 years. Weisselberg and attorneys for the company pleaded not guilty to the charges.
But the investigation is still ongoing. The grand jury is expected to meet through at least November to weigh additional charges. And prior to the first set of charges, prosecutors had gone to great lengths to “flip” Weisselberg into cooperating with the investigation.
Prosecutors’ laserlike focus on Weisselberg remains key to understanding the investigation, legal experts say.
Weisselberg has worked closely with Trump, who shuns email and rarely leaves a paper trail, for decades. Getting him to cooperate remains one of the only avenues for prosecutors to determine if Trump is implicated in any wrongdoing, according to E. Danya Perry, a defense attorney and former federal and New York state prosecutor.
“You do need the other guy in the room,” Perry told Insider. “And it seems like that would be Weisselberg.”
More indictments are likely
The indictment says Weisselberg was “one of the largest individual beneficiaries of the defendants’ scheme” to take benefits like apartments, cars, and cash from the Trump Organization without paying taxes.
But prosecutors didn’t bring charges against any other individual alluded to in the indictment. That specificity indicates that the first indictment is one small part of a larger case Manhattan prosecutors are still building, Perry says.
“To center their initial underlying indictment on Weisselberg himself makes sense, and it is fairly narrow in scope,” Perry, the co-author of a Brookings analysis on the investigation, said. “It could very well be that this is a shot across the bow – [to show] this is what they have on Weisselberg, and if they can flip him, then they might fold other defendants into this indictment.”
Randy Zelin, a former New York state prosecutor and a defense attorney at Wilk Auslander LLP, told Insider that one sentence prosecutors included in the indictment that says Weisselberg is “one of the largest individual beneficiaries” in the tax scheme should be understood as a “very pointed message” that more indictments are coming.
It’s a signal to other people who worked on the Trump Organization’s finances that they should cooperate with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, Zelin said.
“The indictment is an attention-getter,” Zelin said. “It’s all about trying to smoke people out.”
Perry pointed out that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. hired Mark Pomerantz, a storied prosecutor who went after mob bosses, to assist with the investigation earlier this year. Pomerantz appeared friendly with Mary Mulligan, Weisselberg’s attorney, in court before proceedings began for the CFO’s arraignment earlier this month.
It’s unlikely Vance would have installed Pomerantz in the role – and had his office go through possibly millions of pages of tax documents – for a simple case about untaxed benefits, Perry said.
“Based on experience, it would not be unprecedented – or even unusual – to have a narrowly focused underlying indictment that is [meant to] persuade a potential cooperating witness,” Perry said. “And then to supersede with additional charges against additional defendants and/or a broader range of charges.”
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