The former wife of a key Trump Organization employee scrutinized by prosecutors said the company holds sway over employees through unusual financial arrangements, including paying for her home and tuition for her children.
The office successfully subpoenaed millions of pages of tax documents from the Trump Organization in February. Prosecutors there are now seeking to “flip” Allen Weisselberg into guiding them through those pages, the Washington Post reported.
Jennifer Weisselberg says the company retains a grip on key employees by withholding raises. In yearly compensation meetings with Barry Weisselberg, she said, Trump or Allen Weisselberg would offer to pay the tuition of their children instead of giving raises. She said her ex-husband’s base salary didn’t change substantially in the roughly 20 years he’s worked there.
“It was like Allen designing a plan,” she said. ‘It was like, ‘Okay, the way we’re going to maestro this is instead of a raise, we’re going to pay my daughter’s tuition. Instead of a raise, we’re going to pay for the apartment.'”
‘If you want to leave, where are you going to live?’
Donald and Melania Trump gave Jennifer and Barry Weisselberg an apartment in their Trump Parc East building by Central Park in Manhattan as a wedding gift, as Bloomberg News first reported. The couple paid only $400 per month in utilities and other fees – far below the market rate for rent. Prosecutors are examining whether the way the arrangement was reported in tax documents violated tax laws, according to Bloomberg News.
“Obviously, it’s not a gift when you get the same salary for 20 years,” she said.
“It’s so controlling,” she continued. “Because if you want to leave and make the same money – you live there. If you want to leave, where are you going to live?”
Since Allen Weisselberg handled the finances for both the Trump Organization and her family, gifts like that also served as a way to avoid paying taxes, Jennifer Weisselberg said.
“That’s the compensation. They just pay for everything, instead of paying on the books,” she said. “It was a way Allen decided to [benefit] Donald, or to avoid employee taxes, state taxes, gift taxes. I mean, if you want to get compensated and thank Donald – great. But you got to pay taxes on it.”
Representatives for the Trump Organization and for Barry Weisselberg didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment for this story. Representatives for Allen Weisselberg, the Manhattan DA’s office, and the New York Attorney General’s office declined to comment.
As Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s probe into former President Donald Trump steps up a gear, four of Trump’s New York properties have come under renewed scrutiny.
Trump Tower, Trump International Hotel and Tower, 40 Wall Street, and Trump Plaza have missed lenders’ earning projections for five consecutive years, CBS News reported.
Banks have now placed three of the four real estate holdings on debt “watch lists,” the media outlet said.
Mortgage-payment processors have flagged the loans tied to these three properties due to consistent financial underperformance, CBS said.
Wells Fargo and other banks have told investors that reduced incomes on these holdings, due partly to the COVID-19 pandemic, could result in the properties not generating enough money to cover their mortgage payments, CBS News reported.
In addition to presenting Trump with financial troubles, investigations into these properties could also pose legal challenges.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has subpoenaed a New York property tax agency as part of the broad criminal probe, Reuters reported. Prosecutors are looking for signs of possible fraud, the media outlet said.
While Vance’s sprawling probe’s exact scope is not known, court filings suggest that he could be looking into whether Trump and the Trump Organization violated New York laws by manipulating the values of these commercial properties for tax and loan purposes.
The wide-ranging investigation into whether Trump or his businesses violated state tax laws could be reaching its conclusion imminently, Insider reported on Friday.
John Dean, President Richard Nixon’s White House counsel who played a major role in the Watergate scandal, said on Twitter that Trump could be indicted in just a matter of days.
“From personal experience as a key witness, I assure you that you do not visit a prosecutor’s office 7 times if they are not planning to indict those about whom you have knowledge,” Dean’s tweet said.
This refers to Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, meeting with prosecutors for the seventh time this week. His latest meeting lasted for over two hours, NBC News reported.
Cohen, who was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to several felonies, has previously testified to Congress about Trump’s alleged financial mismanagement. In the 2019 testimony, Cohen said that Trump had manipulated the value of assets “when it served his purposes.”
After a months-long battle with Donald Trump over his closely held tax returns, the Manhattan district attorney’s office may finally be in the end stages of its wide-ranging investigation into the former president’s financial dealings.
Trump has repeatedly refused to release his tax returns. But in February, prosecutors notched a major victory when the Supreme Court forced Trump to hand over thousands of pages of his financial information to the DA’s office.
The DA’s investigation is examining whether Trump or his businesses falsely reported the value of properties for tax and loan purposes, which would violate New York law. In the weeks since prosecutors obtained his financial records, the investigation has ramped up significantly, according to media reports and two former prosecutors who spoke to Insider.
“They mean business now,” one source told The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer. The person believed Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s investigation had stagnated while Trump was in office and prosecutors were fighting a court battle to get his taxes. But now, the source told Mayer, prosecutors’ questions have become “very pointed – they’re sharpshooting now, laser-beaming.”
“It hit me,” this person added. “They’re closer.”
The clues are there. Vance announced Friday he wouldn’t run for re-election. The move was widely expected, since Vance, who held the DA post since 2010, hasn’t raised funds ahead of this summer’s primary. His final day will be in December, and a former top deputy told Insider he believes Vance will want to make charging decisions before he leaves.
“Vance started the investigation,” Daniel Alonso, now a partner at Buckley LLP, told Insider. “I’m sure he is absolutely pressing to have a decision made on whether to prosecute anyone, whom to prosecute, and for what charges, by the end of the year.”
Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the Justice Department, echoed that view and told Insider it wasn’t surprising that the investigation’s pace picked up after the Supreme Court ruling.
“You need documents and tax records to prove these cases. That’s how they rise and fall,” he said. “It’s not witness testimony and emails; those things give context to the money. But this case is all about following the money, so it comes down to the tax records, which prosecutors now have full access to.”
Representatives for Trump and the Trump Organization didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment for this story.
Vance recruited a veteran prosecutor who worked on organized crime cases
Vance is likely personally involved in the details of the Trump investigation, according to Alonso. Eight candidates are vying to be his successor, though, and Alonso said there’s “significant concern” in New York’s legal community that not all of them are “qualified to oversee a case of this magnitude.”
While virtually all of the candidates have criticized Trump at one point or another, they have mostly focused on local affairs in their campaigns. At a candidate forum in January, they demurred when asked how they’d handle the Trump case and largely avoided injecting political considerations into it.
In the meantime, Vance has set up an experienced team of white-collar prosecutors, including several of his own top officials. He also made the unusual decision in February to hire Mark Pomerantz, a former federal prosecutor who worked on organized-crime cases before joining the law firm Paul, Weiss as a white-collar criminal defense lawyer.
“The team was in very good shape,” Alonso said of Vance’s office. “But the fact that Pomerantz agreed to come into the case strikes me as an indication that there is definitely something substantial there to investigate.”
In 2019, an IRS whistleblower came forward and alleged that there were “inappropriate efforts to influence” the agency’s mandatory audit of Trump’s taxes. And late last year, The Times published another bombshell investigation showing that Trump paid just $750 in income taxes in 2016 and 2017.
Cramer pointed to Pomerantz’s previous experience prosecuting organized crime cases – he secured the 1999 conviction of the mob boss John Gotti’s son – and said it could prove particularly useful to Vance’s office as it scrutinizes the Trump Organization.
“Obviously Trump wasn’t running an organized crime outfit. But there are some similarities, depending on how the enterprise, which is the Trump Organization in this case, was structured,” Cramer said.
He noted, however, that Pomerantz’s main value likely lies in his private sector experience.
“If you look at any of the good defense lawyers in the country, most of them are former prosecutors,” Cramer said. “Prosecutors make good defense lawyers because they know both sides of cases. They can wear different hats and that’s critical in helping put together a strong case.”
That said, Alonso cautioned that Vance may choose to not bring charges against Trump at all.
“In investigations of accounting fraud, usually prosecutors suspect, and might even believe, that the CEO has the requisite knowledge and intent, but can’t always prove it,” Alonso said.
The precise scope of Vance’s investigation is unclear, but court filings suggest the office could be examining whether Trump and the Trump Organization broke New York state tax laws by manipulating property values to obtain favorable tax rates and loan terms.
Now that the Supreme Court has cleared the way for prosecutors to get Trump’s taxes, investigators have access to a potential treasure trove of information about the complex world of Trump’s business activities.
The tax returns themselves, as well as the communications about them, are at the very heart of the probe. Vance hired FTI, a forensic accounting firm, to help pore over the data. Alonso said it could take some time.
“In the main part of the investigation, which is about valuations and about potential tax, bank, and insurance fraud, from what we know in the public record, they need to analyze those millions of pages of documents that they picked up from Mazars,” Alonso said, referring to Trump’s accounting firm. “That’s not something that’s done overnight.”
By the end of the investigation, Alonso said, prosecutors will have a variety of paths to choose from depending on what they find.
“It might be that they charge the Trump organization itself, or one of its affiliated companies,” he said. “It might be that they charge the CFO Allen Weisselberg if he doesn’t cooperate. It might be that they charge one of the Trump children who helps manage the company. Or it might be that they charge a different executive. Or it might be nobody, at the end of the day.”
“If they can’t prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt, they shouldn’t be charging,” he added.
‘You’d better grab yourself some good lawyers’
In other parts of the investigation, prosecutors appear to be dotting I’s and crossing T’s.
John Dean, President Richard Nixon’s former White House counsel whose testimony about the Watergate scandal led to Nixon’s resignation, said Friday he believed Vance’s office could bring charges against Trump in just a matter of days.
Dean based his observation on a Reuters report that said Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, was going to meet with Manhattan prosecutors for the seventh time.
Cohen pleaded guilty to several felonies stemming from investigations into Trump by the Manhattan US attorney’s office and the special counsel Robert Mueller. He testified to Congress in 2019 that Trump repeatedly inflated or deflated the value of his assets for loan and tax purposes, respectively, and he has extensively cooperated with prosecutors.
In a Friday morning tweet, Dean wrote that based on “personal experience as a key witness I assure you that you do not visit a prosecutor’s office 7 times if they are not planning to indict those about whom you have knowledge. It is only a matter of how many days until DA Vance indicts Donald & Co.”
Cramer emphasized that the precise timeline of the DA’s investigation is still hard to gauge.
“But when the Manhattan DA’s office has your tax returns and they’re bringing in hired guns like Pomerantz who specialize in this type of work,” he said, “You’d better grab yourself some good lawyers.”
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office, led by Cyrus Vance Jr., first sought Trump’s tax documents since it opened an investigation into his finances in 2017.
The precise scope of the investigation is unclear, but court filings suggest that Vance’s office is looking into whether the former president’s tax filings amounted to criminal tax fraud. If Trump were to be indicted for financial crimes, the tax returns would no doubt be a centerpiece for the charges.
Vance’s office is also reportedly looking into whether Donald Trump, Jr. and Allen Weisselberg, the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, were involved in wrongdoing.
The investigation was first triggered after Michael Cohen, a former executive of the Trump Organization and personal lawyer to Trump, told Congress he used the company’s funds for hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film actress who claims she had sex with Trump in 2006. Vance is looking into whether those payments broke laws as well.
Chief among the issues is whether – as Cohen testified – Trump kept two sets of books for his finances: One for favorable loan deals and another for low tax rates.
Jeff Robbins, a former attorney for the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and federal prosecutor overseeing money-laundering probes, said keeping two sets of books could lead to a number of serious financial crimes.
“Inconsistency is not a crime. The intent to defraud is a crime,” Robbins told Insider. “What a prosecutor is going to be looking at is: Did Trump seek to defraud the government of the United States with respect to the valuation of assets and the paying of taxes? Was there an intent to defraud banks?”
Trump has gone to great lengths to keep his tax returns secret despite saying he wants to make them public
In January 2017, Trump held a press conference with his three eldest children and pointed to a large pile of papers that he said showed he was withdrawing from the Trump Organization and giving all control over to Eric Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. He has never permitted reporters to look at those purported documents.
A 2020 investigation from The New York Times found and analyzed nearly two decades’ worth of Trump’s returns. It cited major revelations, including:
Trump paid $0 in federal taxes for the majority of the years reviewed and $750 during his first two years as president. At the same time, he paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes to foreign governments.
He received tens of millions of dollars from foreign sources.
$300 million in loans are due to be paid back over the next several years.
He vastly overstated his charitable giving.
He has been involved in a yearslong battle with the IRS over a $73 million refund, which he may owe back to the federal government.
The subpoenas will also enable Vance to obtain other documents related to Trump’s taxes, including communications between the Trump Organization and its accountants at the accounting firm Mazars USA, as well as questions, complaints, concerns, instructions, and arguments for how to value certain assets.
Robbins described these documents as “a potential treasure trove of admissions.”
“I’m sure prosecutors are looking at all sorts of contradictions in those documents,” Robbins, now the co-chair of the Congressional Investigations practice at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, told Insider.
“If the taxpayer had taken a totally different position with respect to the asset in some other place, that would be very strong evidence of an intent to defraud,” he added.
Deutsche Bank, the Trump Organization’s chief lender, and Aon, its insurance broker, have already cooperated with Vance’s investigation, according to The New York Times.
Trump is also subject to at least two other financial investigations
The House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee is also seeking to obtain Trump’s tax returns as part of an investigation into whether he interfered with the IRS’s audit program.
It is not clear if the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which oversees federal prosecutions in Manhattan, is also looking into Trump’s finances. It successfully obtained a guilty plea from Michael Cohen in 2018 for campaign-finance violations related to the Stormy Daniels hush-money payments.
And just because Vance will get Trump’s tax returns doesn’t mean everyone else will.
Under New York state law, evidence obtained for a grand jury – as Vance is doing here – must be kept under seal unless the case goes to court. Both James and the House have been mired in their own court challenges over Trump’s returns. Rep. Richard Neal, the chairman of the House committee, has cited Vance’s recent Supreme Court win as a mark of confidence that he’ll succeed in his own lawsuit.
James, the state attorney general, has been involved with several tangles with Trump, his family, and his company over financial matters.
In 2019, she secured a settlement with Trump and his children where they paid a $2 million fine and were barred from serving on charity boards in the state. The Trump Foundation, which was dissolved as part of the settlement, had used funds to bolster Trump’s political fortunes and for the then-candidate’s personal image.
A separate probe from James’ office is looking into whether the Trump Organization has misrepresented its assets, including the value and use of its properties, for tax benefits. The office interviewed Eric Trump, the current chief executive of the Trump Organization, in October.
Trump, his family members, and the Trump Organization have all denied wrongdoing.
Vance is not expected to run for reelection as Manhattan’s District Attorney this year. He recently hired Mark Pomerantz, a former mob prosecutor, to oversee the Trump team and ensure its continuity under a new administration.
The investigations into Trump’s finances aren’t the only legal perils he’s facing. He, his company, political operation, and numerous other businesses and organizations he’s affiliated with are staring down a tsunami of investigations. He also faces numerous civil lawsuits related to his business practices and sexual-assault accusations.
Last week, it was reported that Vance’s office hired Mark Pomerantz, a prosecutor specializing in white-collar and organized crime.
Property owners in New York City can file applications with the NYC Tax Commission to correct the assessed value of their properties, according to the agency’s website.
Records held by the agency would likely include income and expense statements from the Trump Organization, which the company may have filed in an effort to lower its tax assessments, Reuters reported.
Vance’s office has reportedly sought documents related to the value of Trump Organization properties in New York from other sources, too. Last fall, Vance’s office issued a subpoena to Deutsche Bank, according to The New York Times. That bank had served as the primary lender for Trump’s businesses for about two decades, reports said. Prosecutors last year reportedly interviewed bankers who had worked with Trump.
Reuters reported that investigators may be looking into whether the Trump Organization sought to increase the value of its properties when seeking loans, then tried to decrease the value when paying property taxes.
The Wall Street Journal last Saturday reported that Vance’s office was looking into loans taken out on the Trump Organization’s flagship properties in New York City.
Pomerantz has several decades of experience as a trial lawyer and litigator, having led the criminal division of the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York between 1997 and 1999.
During his time in the job he oversaw the prosecution of several organized-crime cases, including that of John A. Gotti, the son of the Gambino crime family boss John J. Gotti, on racketeering charges. According to The Times, Pomerantz was involved in the 1988 case which established the legal definition of racketeering, which has been used to prosecute organized-crime figures.
After his stint at the US attorney’s office, Pomerantz then moved into private practice.
According to his profile on the University of Pennsylvania’s website, where he serves on the advisory board for the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, Pomerantz has “has handled major matters and internal investigations involving all aspects of alleged corporate misconduct, including securities and bank fraud, mail and wire fraud,” as well as organized-crime offenses, tax crimes and bribery.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is contemplating bringing a state court case against former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, The Washington Post reported.
The news comes weeks after former President Donald Trump issued a last-minute pardon for Bannon just hours before President Joe Biden was inaugurated. Federal prosecutors accused Bannon and three others of defrauding donors out of $25 million in fundraising campaign for the US-Mexico border wall via their We Build the Wall nonprofit.
Presidential pardons only apply to federal crimes, not state or local cases. Bannon was among more than 140 individuals who Trump granted clemency or commutations in his final 24 hours in office.
Investigators under District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. are in “early-stage discussions” in bringing state charges against Bannon for his involvement in the fundraising fraud, according to The Post report.
The former Trump strategist and three others were charged at the federal level with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering related to the border wall fundraising campaign. He was arrested in August of last year in Westbrook, Connecticut, and pleaded not guilty.
“While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, would not be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle.”
Kolfage, along with We Build the Wall cofounders Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, did not receive a pardon from the former president.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office currently running a probe into President Donald Trump’s finances has tapped forensic accounting specialists for help, The Washington Post reported.
District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. has expanded his initial 2018 probe into hush money paid to two women who say they had sexual relationships with Trump before he was president. Vance has now asked FTI Consulting to look for discrepancies among some property deals and consult with prosecutors on whether or not Trump’s company altered the value of some assets for tax breaks.
Earlier this year, Vance asked a judge for eight years of Trump’s tax records on the grounds that media reports had identified “extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization. Trump has fought the release of those records in court, but Vance has also expanded the scope of the investigation since then.
Trump has recently expressed concern over the large scope of the investigation as his presidency comes to an end.
“Now I hear that these same people that failed to get me in Washington have sent every piece of information to New York so that they can try to get me there,” Trump said in speech earlier this month. “It’s all been gone over, over, and over again.”
According to Jason Zirkle with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners who spoke to The Post, Vance may have hired the firm to help counter any arguments that the investigation is driven by political animus.
One source who asked to remain anonymous told The Post analysts with FTI Consulting may have already reviewed some of Trump’s dealings as part of a grand jury investigation and could potentially testify if criminal charges are filed.
Vance’s office could not be reached for comment by phone at the time of publication and the Trump organization has not replied to Insider’s request for comment.