NEW YORK — A judge has cleared the way for a trial in the criminal case against the Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, to begin this fall.
The case has the potential to shine a bright light on the business practices of former President Donald Trump, through internal company records that he fought hard to keep secret.
In the first public courtroom proceeding in this case in almost a year, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan denied multiple defense motions to dismiss the case and ordered jury selection to begin Oct. 24.
Weisselberg and the Trump Organization were indicted in July 2021 on charges they conspired through a variety of gimmicks and deceptions to evade federal, state and local taxes, an alleged scheme that stretched over 16 years and allegedly saved Weisselberg close to $1 million.
Since then, all of the action in the case has taken place in correspondence and behind closed doors. Throughout late 2021, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office continued to gather evidence, interviewing witnesses and presenting evidence to a grand jury.
On Jan. 1, a new Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, was sworn in, replacing Cyrus Vance Jr., who brought the indictment. Donald Trump went to the Supreme Court of the United States twice in an effort to block Vance’s team from gathering documents. I have failed both times.
In February, two senior investigators quit the District Attorney’s office because they believed Bragg was unlikely to charge Donald Trump individually with crimes.
One of the attorneys, Mark Pomerantz, told Bragg in a letter his team had gathered voluminous evidence of financial crimes committed by Trump, connected with false and misleading statements about his finances.
“I fear that your decision means that Mr. Trump will not be held fully accountable for his crimes,” Pomerantz wrote. “I have worked too hard as a lawyer, and for too long, now to become a passive participant in what I believe to be a serious failure of justice.”
In a statement in April, Bragg insisted the investigation of Trump is ongoing, and pledged to inform the public when the probe ends. Bragg has not brought charges against Trump, and allowed a grand jury hearing evidence in the probe to lapse at the end of April.
Reached by phone in February, former Trump lawyer Ron Fischetti told NPR he believed his client is in the clear.
“I’m very happy – and you can quote me on that,” he said.
Whether or not there are additional indictments, the Trump Organization and Weisselberg now are set to be tried by a local Manhattan jury. Prosecutors will likely present evidence they say shows that Donald Trump personally wrote checks for private school tuition for two of Weisselberg’s family members, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The income was never declared, the indication says.
Prosecutors also say that the Trump Organization deducted the value of un-taxed benefits such as rent and utilities from Weisselberg’s compensation, and recorded it in a ledger. Both Weisselberg and the Trump Organization have pleaded not guilty and denied all wrongdoing.
Lawyers for Weisselberg and the Trump Organization have the case attacked against them as politically motivated. Weisselberg’s lawyers said their client is “collateral damage in the Manhattan District Attorney’s and New York Attorney General’s years-long pursuit of Mr. Weisselberg’s long-time boss, Donald J. Trump.”
They also argued that the case is deeply flawed because it relies on information gathered from an untrustworthy source: former Trump executive Michael Cohen, who was convicted of tax evasion and campaign finance crimes in 2018.
On Friday, Judge Merchan denied almost all defense motions, but did remove one count against the Trump Organization of criminal tax fraud in the third degree.