A longtime executive at the Trump Organization took the witness stand Tuesday for the first time to testify against his employer in a criminal tax fraud case against the company, telling jurors that Donald Trump had been aware of the unusual pay structure for high-level employees.
Former Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, prosecutors’ star witness in their case against Trump’s company, described his role in a scheme that he said allowed the company and executives like him to cheat on taxes. He also told jurors that he pleaded guilty in August and was testifying as part of his plea agreement.
Weisselberg, 75, said Trump was aware that compensation for executives included perks such as apartments and luxury cars in lieu of extra salary.
He also acknowledged that he didn’t pay taxes on those perks, adding that the pay structure saved the Trump Organization money in payroll taxes that it otherwise would have paid, a key claim in prosecutors’ case against the company.
Weisselberg was the biggest beneficiary of the tax scheme. Court filings say he received $1.76 million in “indirect employee compensation,” including a rent-free apartment, expensive cars, private school tuition for his grandchildren and new furniture.
Weisselberg and the company were indicted in April 2021. Trump has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
The company later announced that Weisselberg was being removed as chief financial officer, but he testified Tuesday that his duties — and his salary — have largely remained the same. He said that the company placed him on paid leave last month but that he is still being paid a $640,000 salary and expects to get a $500,000 bonus in January.
Under questioning Tuesday by Susan Hoffinger, the chief of investigations for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, Weisselberg said his co-workers threw him a birthday party just hours after he pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the company. But, he said, it was just “a small cake.”
As part of his plea deal, Weisselberg agreed to pay nearly $2 million in taxes, interest and penalties and serve five months in jail, followed by five years of probation. He also agreed “to testify truthfully at the upcoming trial of the Trump Organization” or face a sentence of up to five to 15 years in prison, prosecutors said.
Lawyers for the Trump companies named in the indictment have argued that Weisselberg was the lone bad actor and that both the company and Trump should not be blamed.
Weisselberg said Tuesday that he first went to work for Trump’s father, Fred Trump, in 1973 and that he has worked for Donald Trump since 1986. He said he met regularly with the younger Trump in the office, where they would chat about football, business and plans for the future. “It ran the gamut,” Weisselberg said.
The trial is scheduled to resume Thursday, when Weisselberg is expected to resume testifying on direct examination.
Other witnesses could include Trump, his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump.
Dareh Gregorian is a politics reporter for NBC News.