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Charges considered for Trump business

Top exec’s fringe benefits said focus by WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM, BEN PROTESS AND JONAH E. BROMWICH THE NEW YORK TIMES | June 26, 2021 at 4:23 a.m.

NEW YORK -- The Manhattan district attorney's office has informed Donald Trump's lawyers that it is considering criminal charges against his family business, the Trump Organization, in connection with fringe benefits the company awarded a top executive, according to several people with knowledge of the matter.

If the case moves ahead, the district attorney, Cyrus Vance, could announce charges against the Trump Organization and the executive, Allen Weisselberg, as soon as next week, the people said. Vance's prosecutors have been conducting the investigation along with lawyers from the office of the New York state attorney general, Letitia James.

The criminal charges would be the first to emerge from Vance's long-running investigation into Trump and his business dealings, and raises the prospect of a former president having to defend the company he founded and has run for decades.

While the prosecutors had been building a case for months against Weisselberg, the Trump Organization's chief financial officer, as part of an effort to pressure him to cooperate with the inquiry, it was not previously known that the company also might face charges.

Prosecutors recently have focused much of their investigation on the perks that Trump and the company doled out to Weisselberg and other executives, including tens of thousands of dollars in private school tuition for one of Weisselberg's grandchildren, as well as rents on apartments and car leases.

Prosecutors are looking into whether those benefits were properly recorded in the company's ledgers and whether taxes were paid on them, The New York Times has reported.

Trump's lawyers met Thursday with senior prosecutors in the district attorney's office in hopes of persuading them to abandon any plan to charge the company, according to several people familiar with the meeting. Such meetings are routine in white-collar criminal investigations, and it is unclear whether the prosecutors have made a final decision on whether to charge the Trump Organization, which has long denied wrongdoing.

It would be highly unusual to indict a company just for failing to pay taxes on fringe benefits, said several lawyers who specialize in tax rules. None of them could cite any recent example, noting that many companies provide their employees with perks like company cars.

Still, an indictment of Trump's company could deal a significant blow to the former president as he flirts with a return to politics. The Trump Organization is inseparable from Trump, acting as the corporate umbrella for a portfolio of hotels, golf clubs and other real estate, most of which are branded with his name.

It is unclear whether Trump will ultimately face charges himself. The investigation, which began three years ago, has been wide-ranging, examining whether the Trump Organization manipulated the value of its properties to obtain favorable loans and tax benefits, people with knowledge of the matter have said.

The inquiry is also examining the organization's statements to insurance companies about the value of various assets and any role that its employees -- including Weisselberg -- may have played in hush-money payments to two women during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump has derided the investigation by Vance, a Democrat, as a politically motivated "witch hunt." He unsuccessfully tried to fight a subpoena from Vance's office seeking eight years of his personal and corporate tax returns, a fight that twice reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

A spokesperson for the district attorney's office declined to comment. A lawyer for Weisselberg, Mary Mulligan, also declined to comment. A spokesperson for the Trump Organization could not immediately be reached.

The indictments could increase pressure on Weisselberg, who could seek to cut a deal with prosecutors to testify against Trump in exchange for leniency.

Weisselberg's intimate knowledge of the Trump Organization -- he has worked at the company for decades and was one of the top executives when Trump was in the White House -- would make his cooperation an enormous asset to investigators looking at all aspects of the company.

Print Headline: Charges considered for Trump business

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