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Weisselberg testifies Trump Organization tax schemes were for his benefit

Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization's former chief financial officer, arrives to court in New York on Nov. 15. (Julia Nikhinson/AP)

NEW YORK — Allen Weisselberg, the longtime finance chief at Trump Organization, appeared to get emotional Thursday as he testified about feeling shame for conducting a scheme to cheat tax authorities as he and his family enjoyed the fancy benefits.

Weisselberg, testifying as a witness for the prosecution as part of a plea agreement, said on cross-examination that he was embarrassed by his conduct “more than you can imagine” and that his actions betrayed the Trump family, for whom he had worked for a half-century. He is “practically” family to the Trumps, he said.

Weisselberg also testified that he was acting only for his own benefit — a position that could work against a conviction in the criminal tax fraud and conspiracy case against Donald Trump’s namesake company.

“It was my own personal greed that led to this,” Weisselberg said.

Defense attorney Alan Futerfas showed jurors portions of Weisselberg’s tax records that indicated that he and accountant, Donald Bender, who also prepared the company’s taxes for decades, did not report Weisselberg’s New York City residency, which reduced his tax liability.

Prosecutors have argued that the Trump Organization also saved money as a result of illegal tax practices that benefited Weisselberg and other executives.

Weisselberg, 75, pleaded guilty in August to evading taxes and has been promised a sentence of five months in jail in exchange for testifying in a separate trial targeting Trump’s business.

Earlier Thursday on direct examination, Weisselberg said the company dodged payroll taxes on executive bonuses, a practice it did not stop until “around the time Mr. Trump became president” in 2017.

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Prosecutors have presented evidence at the trial that an internal review by a tax attorney in 2017 identified what could be problematic practices at the company.

Weisselberg said the company’s longtime comptroller, Jeffrey McConney, also knew the tax practices were illegal. McConney is considered a co-conspirator, but he has immunity from prosecution in the matter under a New York law that protects grand jury witnesses from prosecution.

McConney, whose testimony over five days concluded Tuesday, had said he wasn’t aware the practices were wrong until the in-house audit.

The Trump Organization is on trial in New York Supreme Court on charges involving scheme to defraud, conspiracy, criminal tax fraud and falsifying business records.

Weisselberg said during testimony on Tuesday that the Trump Organization saved money when he built untaxed forms of compensation into his salary and hefty annual bonus, reducing his tax liability.

He has admitted to avoiding taxes on $1.7 million in income from 2005 to 2017, and said the Trump Organization would have had to greatly increase the amount Weisselberg took in untaxed expenses to compensate for the pay he would lose by following tax laws.

The company “would have had to give me double the amount of those expenses,” he said.

Weisselberg is on a paid leave of absence, earning $640,000 a year. Eric Trump, the former president’s son who now runs the company, will decide his 2022 bonus at the end of the year.

His last bonus was $500,000.

Weisselberg acknowledged that he appears to still be in the company’s good graces, despite his guilty plea and testimony. He said there was a modest birthday party for him at the Trump Tower offices in August, shortly after his plea deal was finalized.

Weisselberg’s testimony also touched on his direct dealings with Donald Trump during the course of the alleged scheme, although prosecutors have not alleged Trump knew Weisselberg was orchestrating tax avoidance maneuvers. Trump is not considered a conspirator in the alleged scheme.

Jurors have seen evidence that Trump, as owner of Trump Organization, signed off on a number of large transactions relevant to the case. Weisselberg testified that before Trump’s presidency beginning in 2017, Weisselberg reported directly to and met daily with him, having talks that “ran the gamut” from “football to business transactions … to things we wanted to do in the future.”

Trump approved some of the major expenses Weisselberg used to cheat state and federal tax authorities, but prosecutors have not alleged that he was aware of Weisselberg’s failure to include the expenses as income on his W2 form. Weisselberg said it was Trump’s suggestion for Weisselberg and his wife to move to a luxury apartment along the Hudson River in 2005 to cut down his commute time to and from Long Island and to make his life easier.

That apartment was among the many personal costs Weisselberg filtered through the business that should have been reported as income but weren’t. He also illegally used pretax funds to pay for his grandchildren’s tuition at an elite Manhattan private school, which now costs $60,000 per year, Mercedes Benzes for himself and his wife, furniture and other items.

Weisselberg began working for the Trump family nearly 50 years ago — first for Trump’s father, Fred, who built and managed rental properties in New York City.

Lawyers for the Trump Organization have argued that Weisselberg’s conduct was to the benefit of himself — not the business — and that the company is not criminally liable.

The trial started with jury selection on Oct. 24 and is likely to conclude in December. The Trump Organization could be on the hook for $1.6 million in fines if convicted.

Trump, Weisselberg and three of Trump’s adult children have separately been sued by the New York Attorney General’s office on allegations of other fraudulent business practices. A judge overseeing that civil case recently ordered a former federal judge to serve as an independent monitor, overseeing aspects of the Trump Organization’s ongoing business dealings.

Trump on Tuesday announced his 2024 candidacy for U.S. president at Mar-a-Lago, his Trump Organization-operated resort in Palm Beach, Fla.