- The Trump Organization’s tax fraud trial is underway in its second week in a Manhattan criminal court.
- On Tuesday, juries saw the first evidence linking the alleged fraud to the top of the company.
- The signatures of Donald and Eric Trump may refute defense claims that the scheme stalled with his followers.
Jurors in the Trump Organization criminal tax fraud trial have seen the first evidence directly linking Donald Trump to the case, including key documents bearing the former president’s distinctive signatures and Sharpie’s initials.
The breakthrough came early in the trial Tuesday in a Manhattan courtroom where Trump’s real estate and golf resort empire – though not Trump himself – is on trial for helping its executives cheat their income taxes.
Jurors were shown what prosecutors said and what a witness confirmed were Trump’s signatures on about six important letters and payroll documents. It’s evidence intended to properly disprove the defense’s claims that a tax evasive scheme stopped someone from the highest peak in the company, which means less than involving anyone named Trump.
The documents were submitted by the first witness at the trial, Jeffrey McConaughey, who as the Trump Organization’s observer is responsible for payroll and tax reports.
McConaughey will end up derailing the trial on Tuesday afternoon by testing positive for COVID-19 during his lunch break. His testimony — and the trial itself — is tentatively scheduled to resume on Monday morning.
But during Tuesday mornings on stage — and between bouts of coughing — McCone managed to do some damage to the defense by saying “Donald Trump,” “Mr. Trump” and “President Trump” over and over again as he was asked to identify himself. Signatures appearing on courtroom screens.
“Who is the signature?” Joshua Stinglas, one of the lead plaintiffs, asked McConee while jurors considered an overhead projection of a letter on May 1, 2005.
“President Trump” McConaughey said of the signing, outlining the now widely recognized small mountain range of Sharpie ink at the bottom of the letter.
Is this his full signature?
Makoni replied, “Yes.”
In the 17-year-old letter, Trump personally agreed to rent $6,500 a month for an apartment on the Hudson River waterfront in Manhattan. Trump’s letter stated that only his long-time chief financial officer was to live in it.
Stinglas asked about the content of the letter: “In other words, Donald J. Trump authorized Donald J. Trump to sign the lease” for the apartment. The cough observer replied, “Yes.”
“Who signed this lease?” of the apartment, Steinglass asked, showing the lease itself on screen.
“This is President Trump’s signature,” McCone replied.
The former chief financial officer who enjoyed this free condo for the company — in what was formerly Trump Place on Riverside Boulevard — is an even more important proof witness, Allen Weisselberg, who started with the company when Trump’s father ran it in 1973.
Now a “special counsel” on furlough but still getting paid and a defense attorney for Trump Cent, he admitted in August to living in the apartment for years as part of an out-of-tax book collection of Trump Organization executives’ allowances.
The whole issue revolves around these “perks” – extras that range from luxury cars and apartments to free electronics, carpets, and private schooling for Wesselberg’s son and grandchildren.
Weisselberg admitted in his guilty plea that he earned more than $1.76 million in liens over 15 years from the tax evasion system. Although the liens were part of his salary, he did not pay income taxes on them as required by law.
Weiselberg is now the fallen man of defense strategy. No one named Trump was involved in the tax evasion scheme, jurors were told in defense opening statements on Monday. Instead, the scheme started and stopped with the CFO.
“Weisselberg did for Weisselberg,” Trump Organization attorney Michael van der Veen told jurors repeatedly in editorials.
On Tuesday, the claim’s theory – which alleges that Trump, on at least some occasions, and thus the company, did so in Weisselberg’s favour – was bolstered by the scattering of papers in this already document-intensive trial.
At one point on Tuesday, jurors saw the initials of Trump’s black mark on two bills from 2011. In one, from PC Richard & Son, Trump signed $1,954.17 in electronics. On the other hand, he autographed nearly $7,000 in rugs from ABC Carpet and Home.
Prosecutors say both the electronics and the carpet were part of Weisselberg’s package of illegally untaxed liens.
Eric Trump’s signature also appeared on a 2020 document presented to jurors on Tuesday.
McCone testified that the document was a record signing of Eric Trump’s wages that year for Weisselberg, including $640,000 plus a $500,000 bonus, and for McConaughey, who would have earned $300,000 plus a $125,000 bonus.
Trump personally signed off on some six-year private school tuition checks for Weisselberg’s grandchildren, prosecutors allege in describing more untaxed perks.
“Did you know that Allen Weisselberg’s grandchildren went to a private school” in Manhattan, asked Stenglas McConaughey on Tuesday.
The observer replied, “Yes.”
When asked by Stinglas what the school’s name was, McConaughey replied, “Columbia is something. I don’t remember.”
Columbia Grammar and Prep School? Prosecutor suggested.
“I think so,” McCone replied.
“This is also where Donald Trump’s son went?” The prosecutor continued.
“I think so,” McCone answered again.
“Who paid the tuition fees” for Weisselberg’s grandchildren, the prosecutor asked.
“Mr. Trump,” the observer murmured.
“You said Mr. Trump?” asked the prosecutor.
The observer replied, “President Trump.”
Did he sign those checks himself? asked the prosecutor.
The observer replied, “I think so, yes.”
Then he asked the attorney general, “Who decided that Donald Trump would pay Alan Weisselberg’s fee?”
Here was a strategic question. Can the defense comment this on Weisselberg doing this for Weisselberg? Who other than Trump himself could decide to remove his signature mark and sign his own checks?
“I have no idea,” replied the observer, one of several occasions on which he refrained from implicating the “President,” as the former president was called.
Those school checks that Trump signed, including checks totaling $89,000 from 2015, have yet to be shown to jurors.
Now sick with COVID, McConaughey won’t be back on the platform — nor will the trial resume, and tuition checks will remain on a thumb drive — until Monday morning at the earliest.