On Thursday, New York prosecutors presented the specifics of their previously announced indictment against Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg and the Trump Organization itself: 15 criminal counts, including tax fraud and grand larceny.
The indictment of Weisselberg, who helped lead the Trump Organization with Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump while Donald Trump was in the White House, had been expected for weeks. It is reportedly part of an effort by retiring Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance to compel one of Trump’s top lieutenants to testify against him as part of a sprawling grand jury investigation into Trump’s business practices.
While the outcome here was not surprising and had been telegraphed throughout the week, there were some new and interesting details to come out of the indictment itself. Specifically, a number of sections of the indictment demonstrated exactly how the Trump corporation took pains to document its own alleged crimes with special spreadsheets for tracking Weisselberg’s real compensation—which included $1.7 million in unreported fringe benefits—versus the compensation that would be reported to the IRS.
According to the prosecutors, the absurd bit of self-incrimination went like this: The Trump corporation set Weisselberg’s compensation at a fixed amount of money—specifically, $940,000 with bonuses from 2011 through 2018. Then, instead of simply putting that money into his paycheck and reporting it to IRS, the Trump Organization allegedly diverted part of it into fringe benefits, such as private school tuition for his grandchildren, a Manhattan apartment where Weisselberg and his wife lived, and leases on two Mercedes-Benzes for him and his wife. All of these perks should have been treated as taxable income in their own right, the indictment says, but instead Weisselberg and the Trump Organization failed to report them as part of his income, avoiding hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax liability.
But here’s the fun part. Lest anyone think this might have been an innocent mix-up over which additional benefits should have counted as taxable income, the Trump corporation allegedly maintained an internal spreadsheet that included the fringe benefits alongside Weisselberg’s formal salary and bonuses, to document how his real compensation added up to the agreed-upon $940,000. So, the fringe benefits were explicitly and directly deducted from Weisselberg’s gross pay in that separate spreadsheet, which may as well have read “Here’s a detailed description of how we conducted our alleged tax crimes.”
It was a further part of the scheme to defraud that Weisselberg received unreported cash that he could use to pay personal holiday gratuities. Specifically, Weisselberg caused the Trump corporation to issue corporate checks made payable to a Trump Organization employee who cashed the checks and received cash. The cash was given to Weisselberg for his personal use. The Trump corporation booked this cash as “Holiday Entertainment,” but maintained internal spreadsheets showing the cash to be part of Weisselberg’s employee compensation.
Donald Trump was not personally charged on Thursday. But the indictment specifies that Trump personally signed some of the checks paying for the fringe benefits. And the penny-pinching at the center of the documentation to ensure that Weisselberg was never paid any more than his agreed upon compensation once the fringe benefits were accounted for is a hallmark of how Trump is said to have run his business over the years.
As the New York Times noted on Thursday, Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen—who pleaded guilty as part of another alleged Trump criminal scheme involving hush money payments to an adult film performer during the 2016 campaign—described Trump and Weisselberg in his book as “like Frick and Frack when it came to stiffing vendors.”
As the Times further reported:
[John] Burke, who served as chief financial officer for Mr. Trump’s casino business, said any Trump employee who dealt with vendors knew to “squeeze every penny” out of people, and that Mr. Weisselberg excelled at minimizing and delaying payment.
While Trump never has been held accountable for those hundreds of allegedly stiffed contractors, it appears now that his miserliness may finally catch up with him, thanks to his corporation having allegedly taken the step of cataloging every last penny paid in unreported fringe benefits to an employee to ensure he wasn’t compensated too much.