New York, Aug 20 (IANS) Former US President Donald Trump's most trusted top business executive Allen Weisselberg has to pay $2 million in taxes, penalties, and interest for tax evasion and fraud and spend the next five months in jail following an order passed by a Manhattan judge on charges pressed by the District Attorney pursuing the case for long.
Trump was not charged.
Weissleberg, a former CFO in Trump's businesses, pleaded guilty to 15 charges of felony involving tax evasion under the plea bargain deal his lawyers negotiated, citing his advanced age, but he never turned on his former boss.
His admissions were damaging for the Trump family business, but prosecutors could never convince him to turn on the former President himself. Weisselberg, one of Trump's most trusted lieutenants, stood before a judge in a Lower Manhattan courtroom on Thursday and admitted that he had "conspired with the former President's company to commit numerous crimes", the New York Times said in a report detailing how back-room negotiations led him to admit guilt.
Weisselberg's guilty plea, which followed more than a year of the Manhattan District Attorney's office pressuring him to cooperate in a broader investigation of Trump, painted a damning picture of the beleaguered company, which now faces significant financial penalties if it loses its own trial on similar charges.
But for the prosecutors who have long sought to indict Trump, Thursday's hearing was something of a consolation prize.
Under the plea deal, Weisselberg must pay nearly $2 million in taxes, penalties and interest after accepting lavish off-the-books perks from Trump and his company, including a leased Mercedes-Benz, an apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side and private school tuition for his grandchildren.
He also must point the finger at his longtime employer, the Trump Organisation, at its trial in October. In exchange, Weisselberg, who was facing prospects of spending 15 years in prison, is to receive a five-month jail sentence, and with time credited for good behaviour, he might serve as little as 100 days.
Detailing the inside story of his conviction, The New York Times said that the deal emerged after weeks of pitched back-and-forth negotiations. They culminated in a crucial meeting on Monday, Weisselberg's 75th birthday, when his lawyers gathered with prosecutors in judge Juan Merchan's chambers, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
Weisselberg's lawyers pressed for leniency, emphasizing their client's age, frail health and past service in the National Guard and arguing that the District Attorney's demand for a six-month jail term was excessive.
The judge had previously warned that Weisselberg's only chance for probation was cooperating with the broader investigation into Trump's business practices. With that off the table, he proposed a compromise: He overruled the objections of the District Attorney's office and would agree to the five-month sentence.
The former President - who is not accused of wrongdoing - has described the Manhattan District Attorney's criminal investigation into his family's real estate company as a witch hunt. The case relates to a 15-year scheme that prosecutors said helped executives at The Trump Organisation avoid paying taxes on corporate benefits such as rent, luxury car payments, and private school fees, BBC reported.
The inquiry focused on whether Weisselberg and other executives received these benefits without reporting them properly on their tax returns.
The NYT interviews highlighted the intense negotiations between Weisselberg's lawyers and the District Attorney's office - and the previously unknown role played by the judge, to guide the talks - once it became clear that the Trump Organisation would refuse to sign a plea deal of its own. Had the company agreed to plead guilty, the judge had offered to impose an even shorter sentence on Weisselberg, people with knowledge were quoted as saying.
In a statement, District Attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, emphasised how the plea "directly implicates the Trump Organisation in a wide range of criminal activity", adding: "We look forward to proving our case in court against the Trump Organisation."
The District Attorney's investigation into Trump and his family business began with Bragg's predecessor in 2018 and was stalled while Trump fought a subpoena for his tax returns - a battle that twice reached the US Supreme Court.
Weisselberg's guilty plea - which legal experts suggest will strengthen the case against The Trump Organisation - comes as Trump is investigated on several fronts.
Just last week, Trump declined to answer questions as part of a separate New York state investigation into his family's business practices. That inquiry is a civil one, meaning it will not result in criminal charges.
There are also separate investigations into the former President's handling of classified documents - which led the FBI to search his Florida residence - and others related to his efforts to undermine the result of the 2020 presidential election.