Accountant faces pressure to turn on Trump in criminal investigation
(Reuters) – When lawyers asked Donald Trump over a decade ago to identify who estimated the values of some of his signature properties, he shrugged and pointed the finger at his longtime accountant , Allen Weisselberg.
“Ultimately I’m probably thinking of Mr. Weisselberg,” he said, testifying in 2007 in a libel lawsuit he brought against a journalist, a case that hinged on whether Trump had inflated the value of his business empire. “I never got too involved except that I would give my opinion.”
A judge dismissed the action, but Trump’s comments illustrate the challenges Weisselberg, 73, now faces, as he comes under scrutiny in the district attorney’s investigation. Manhattan, Cy Vance, to find out if the former U.S. president and his Trump organization committed financial crimes.
Few have been as deeply involved in Trump’s finances as Weisselberg, a trusted figure in Trump’s family business who began working for Trump’s father, Fred, in 1973 in the company’s Brooklyn office. , paying bills and tracking rent payments for high-rise apartments.
Legal experts and a source close to the criminal investigation say prosecutors’ apparent goal is to convince Weisselberg to cooperate with the investigation into Trump’s transactions.
“They want him to turn around,” said the person close to the investigation.
A spokesperson for Vance declined to comment. Lawyers for Weisselberg and Trump did not respond to requests for comment.
The Manhattan district attorney said in an August filing that the office was investigating “possibly widespread and prolonged criminal conduct” at the Trump Organization, although he did not fully disclose the scope of the investigation. In a filing filed in September, he said “mountainous” allegations of misconduct could warrant a grand jury investigation into possible tax evasion, insurance fraud and falsification of business records.
Vance’s office and a separate civil investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James are both examining whether Trump distorted the value of his assets for tax benefits, among other potential violations.
Weisselberg’s unique position within the Trump organization places him among a small number of people who could provide prosecutors with crucial evidence of intent to commit fraud. Legal experts say Trump could try to distance himself from any controversial valuation of his properties and businesses by citing Weisselberg’s role as financial custodian, as he did in the case of defamation of 2007.
“It may very well be that Weisselberg is Trump’s defense in a criminal case,” said Michael Bachner, a defense attorney who previously worked as a prosecutor with Vance in the Manhattan office.
If Trump maintains that he simply relied on the advice of his accountants and lawyers, Weisselberg could be in the position of having to take the heat himself on any potentially fraudulent transaction, Bachner said – unless the accountant make a deal with prosecutors and involve Trump.
“If I’m Trump, I must be nervous about this,” he said.
The source close to the investigation said that in addition to examining Weisselberg, prosecutors also asked about his sons, who also had ties to Trump: Jack Weisselberg, director of Ladder Capital – an investment firm real estate, which has been a creditor for four Trump Properties – and Barry Weisselberg, who ran ice rinks under Trump contracts with New York City.
Ladder Capital did not respond to requests for comment. Other Ladder executives, but not Jack Weisselberg, appear on loan documents implicating Trump.
Jack and Barry Weisselberg did not respond to requests for comment.
UNIQUE POSITION OF TRUST
On March 1, after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Trump’s latest efforts to keep his tax records private, Vance’s office obtained millions of pages of documents on Trump’s taxes and finances. His office also added an experienced organized crime and corruption prosecutor, Mark Pomerantz, to Trump’s investigative team, and interviewed Ladder Capital staff.
As chief financial officer and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, Weisselberg has developed a unique position of trust with Trump, according to interviews with four former Trump Organization officials. The accountant handled Trump’s personal finances as well as the company’s most sensitive financial information, officials said.
Barbara Res, Trump’s former construction manager, said Weisselberg was part of the inner circle of the Trump family, but he kept a modest profile. “He was the only one of the executives to name Donald as Mr. Trump,” she said. “He was that kind of guy.”
Res said Trump trusts Weisselberg like a pair of eyes to make sure other Trump accountants and lawyers are doing their jobs. “Allen didn’t want to go out of the business,” she said. “Allen didn’t want to talk; Allen could be trusted to keep things quiet.
When former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen arranged a secret cash payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels, Weisselberg was involved in the reduction of the checks, Cohen said in a February 2019 hearing held. by a committee of the United States House of Representatives. Weisselberg was granted limited immunity from federal prosecutors to provide information in connection with the investigation targeting Cohen; he was not charged with wrongdoing. Cohen has pleaded guilty to tax evasion and campaign finance violations.
Vance could seek a court order giving him access to Weisselberg’s testimony in the federal case against Cohen, legal experts have said.
During the 2019 committee hearing, Cohen identified Weisselberg as one of Trump’s executives who knew Trump had inflated assets in claims to insurance companies in an attempt to reduce premiums. Responding to questions from Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cohen said he could not confirm a New York Times report indicating whether Trump under-reported values of inherited real estate to reduce his taxes.
“Who would know the answers to these questions? ” she asked.
“Allen Weisselberg,” Cohen said.
Reporting by Jason Szep and Joseph Tanfani; edited by Brian Thevenot