NEW YORK — A judge has cleared the way for a trial in the criminal case against the Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, which is due to begin this fall.
The case has the potential to shed light on former President Donald Trump’s business practices, thanks to internal company records he fought to keep secret.
In the first public hearing in this case in nearly a year, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan denied several defense motions to dismiss the case and ordered jury selection to begin October 24.
Weisselberg and the Trump Organization were indicted in July 2021 for conspiring through a variety of gimmicks and deceptions to evade federal, state and local taxes, an alleged scheme that spanned 16 years and allegedly allowed Weisselberg save almost a million dollars.
Since then, all action in the case has been by correspondence and behind closed doors. Throughout late 2021, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office continued to gather evidence, interview witnesses, and present evidence to a grand jury.
On Jan. 1, a new Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, was sworn in, replacing Cyrus Vance Jr., who filed the indictment. Donald Trump has twice gone to the US Supreme Court in a bid to stop Vance’s team from collecting documents. He failed both times.
In February, two lead investigators left the district attorney’s office because they believed Bragg was unlikely to charge Donald Trump individually with crimes.
One of the attorneys, Mark Pomerantz, told Bragg in a letter that his team had gathered extensive evidence of financial crimes committed by Trump, related to false and misleading statements about his finances.
“I fear your decision means that Mr. Trump will not be held fully accountable for his crimes,” Pomerantz wrote. “I have worked too hard as a lawyer, and for too long, to now become a passive participant in what I see as a serious failure of justice.”
In a statement in April, Bragg insisted the investigation into Trump was ongoing and pledged to let the public know when the investigation is over. Bragg did not bring charges against Trump and allowed a grand jury hearing evidence in the inquest to expire at the end of April.
Reached by phone in February, former Trump attorney Ron Fischetti told NPR he believed his client was in the clear.
“I’m very happy – and you can quote me on that,” he said.
Whether or not there are additional indictments, the Trump Organization and Weisselberg must now be tried by a local jury in Manhattan. Prosecutors will likely present evidence they say shows Donald Trump personally wrote checks for private school tuition for two of Weisselberg’s family members amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. . The earnings were never declared, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors also say the Trump Organization deducted the value of untaxed benefits such as rent and utilities from Weisselberg’s compensation and recorded it in a ledger. Weisselberg and the Trump Organization have pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing.
Lawyers for Weisselberg and the Trump Organization have attacked the case against them as politically motivated. Lawyers for Weisselberg said their client was “collateral damage in the Manhattan District Attorney’s and New York Attorney General’s years-long pursuit of Mr. Weisselberg’s longtime boss Donald J. Trump.”
They also argued that the case was deeply flawed because it relied on information gleaned from an unreliable source: former Trump leader Michael Cohen, who was convicted of tax evasion and campaign finance crimes in 2018.
On Friday, Judge Merchan denied nearly all of the defense motions, but withdrew one count against the Trump Organization of third-degree criminal tax evasion.