NEW YORK (AP) — Closing arguments in the Trump Organization tax evasion trial got off to a rocky start Thursday when a lawyer for the company was caught showing jurors excerpts of testimony that had previously been expunged from the official court record.
Prosecutors objected to the posting about an hour after attorney Susan Necheles presented. The judge, Juan Manuel Merchan, warned Necheles and halted the arguments so she could remove any other prohibited testimony from a slide show she was showing to jurors.
Necheles said she had no intention of showing testimony that would have been canceled following sustained objection. Merchan noted that the objections themselves were removed from the excerpts shown by Necheles, but not the objectionable testimony.
Necheles resumed his argument after a half-hour break. Merchan briefly discussed the transcription issue with the jurors and Necheles showed them the correct version, prefacing his remarks with a mea culpa: “Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize for this error.”
The transcript kerfuffle was just the latest dust involving lawyers from the Trump Organization. Earlier this week, Merchan chastised the defense for submitting hundreds of pages of court documents just before midnight Sunday.
The Trump Organization, the entity through which former President Donald Trump runs his real estate and other businesses, is accused of helping some top executives avoid paying taxes on company-paid benefits, such as apartments and luxury cars.
The tax evasion case is the only lawsuit to stem from the Manhattan prosecutor’s three-year investigation into Trump and his business practices.
The Trump Organization’s longtime finance chief Allen Weisselberg admitted he came up with the long-running plan himself, that he did it to save money on his own personal income taxes, and that neither Trump nor Trump’s family knew what he was doing.
Prior to the interruption, Necheles used excerpts from Weisselberg’s three days of testimony to underscore his argument that the executive only intended to benefit itself, not the Trump Organization, and that the company should not be blamed for its transgressions.
“We’re here today for one reason and one reason only: Allen Weisselberg’s greed,” Necheles said, his remarks accompanied at one point by the wail of a siren from an emergency vehicle outside. outside.
Weisselberg, a senior adviser to the Trump Organization and former chief financial officer, started working for Trump’s real estate developer father, Fred Trump, in 1973 and joined Donald Trump’s company in 1986.
“Along the way, he messed up. He became greedy. Once he started, it was hard for him to stop,” Necheles said.
Prosecutors and another company lawyer are expected to present their closing arguments on Thursday afternoon. Prosecutors argue that the Trump Organization – through its affiliates Trump Corp. and Trump Payroll Corp. — is responsible because Weisselberg, the longtime chief financial officer, was a “senior executive officer” charged with acting on behalf of the company and its various entities.
If convicted, the Trump Organization could be fined more than $1 million. He could also have difficulty closing future deals.
Necheles argued that the case against the company is tenuous and that the 1965 state law underlying some of the charges requires prosecutors to show that Weisselberg intended to benefit the company, not only to himself.
Weisselberg pleaded guilty in August to dodging taxes on extras of $1.7 million and testified against the Trump Organization in exchange for a promised five-month prison sentence.
The former chief financial officer testified that he conspired to hide his benefits with the company’s vice president and chief controller, Jeffrey McConney, by adjusting payroll records to deduct their cost from his salary. The arrangement reduced Weisselberg’s tax liability, while saving the company money because he didn’t have to give it a big raise to cover the cost of benefits and additional taxes he was incurring. would have incurred.
“I knew in my mind that there was a benefit to the business,” Weisselberg said.
But Necheles argued that any benefit to the company was incidental, minimal and unintended.
“He atones for his sins, but as part of the plea deal, the prosecution forced him to testify against the company he helped build,” Necheles told jurors. “Now the prosecution’s case hinges on one thing: convincing you, the jurors, that Mr. Weisselberg’s actions were committed in the name of the company.”
“You will see that there was no such intention,” added Necheles. “The purpose of Mr. Weisselberg’s crimes was to benefit Mr. Weisselberg.”
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