The Trump Organization's former CFO is expected to admit to 15 felonies
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A longtime executive at the Trump Organization is expected to plead guilty to tax fraud in Manhattan criminal court today.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
That would make Allen Weisselberg the latest Trump ally to be convicted at trial or plead guilty to a felony. He worked for Donald Trump long before he ran for president.
INSKEEP: NPR's Andrea Bernstein is here to explain. Good morning.
ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: What has Weisselberg done for Trump over the years?
BERNSTEIN: So Allen Weisselberg is the closest any human being can come to being the physical embodiment of Trump's business. He's worked for the Trumps since the 1970s, when Donald Trump's father, Fred, was renting apartments in Brooklyn. Weisselberg really knows the ins and outs of the company better than anyone, excepting maybe Donald Trump. And as of today, if the plea deal is accepted, Weisselberg will be the highest-level Trump Organization official to admit to a felony.
INSKEEP: Well, I'm just thinking about this. When you admit to a felony, you also have to state in court exactly what you did. What is he expected to say?
BERNSTEIN: So we don't know exactly until the hearing concludes. But Weisselberg was charged with 15 felonies for carrying out a more than 15-year scheme to cheat taxpayers by taking part of his salary through untaxed benefits, like a luxury apartment, private school tuition for his grandchildren and Mercedes-Benzes for him and his wife. The prosecutors say he hid nearly $2 million of income in this way. The crimes he was charged with include fraud, conspiracy and grand larceny.
INSKEEP: And why is he admitting to all of this now?
BERNSTEIN: So last week, the judge in the case denied Weisselberg and the Trump Organization's motions to dismiss the case. That's often a time when these plea deals happen.
INSKEEP: Well, what is known about the terms? Like, what is he getting in return in terms of a reduced sentence or whatever else?
BERNSTEIN: So in this case, it looks like Weisselberg, who's in his 70s, will say he committed crimes and agreed to a jail sentence of just months. Weisselberg may cooperate with prosecutors in some way. But it won't be certain exactly how that will work until the judge OKs the deal. What we very much know is that Weisselberg has worked hard not to do anything that could put him at odds with Donald Trump.
INSKEEP: Although, if he is needing to cooperate as part of a deal, that means aiming, presumably, at his boss. Investigators tend to go up the chain rather than down the chain. So what kind of cooperation could he potentially provide?
BERNSTEIN: Well, it's complicated. But he can testify at a potential trial of Donald Trump's company. As of now, because Donald Trump's business is under criminal indictment in the same scheme and is not pleading guilty, there's a trial set for October 24. And under New York law, if top executives have committed crimes, that's imputed to the corporation. So if Weisselberg pleads guilty, his testimony could help make a case against Trump's company. But that might not necessarily implicate Donald Trump.
INSKEEP: How does this case fit in with the wider docket of former Trump employees?
BERNSTEIN: Weisselberg isn't even the first top Trump executive to plead guilty to felonies. There was, for example, Michael Cohen, the former counsel and VP there. There was Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who was convicted of tax fraud, money laundering and conspiracy against the United States. Political adviser Roger Stone, convicted of lying to Congress. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, convicted of lying to the FBI. And just this summer, adviser Steve Bannon, convicted of contempt of Congress. Manafort, Stone and Flynn were pardoned by Trump. But all these aides were convicted of felonies. Weisselberg is just the latest. And though Trump is under investigation, he said he's done nothing wrong. And he says the investigations are politically motivated, quote, "witch hunts."
INSKEEP: NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thanks.
BERNSTEIN: Thank you.
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