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Donald Trump’s lawyers make late bid to fend off charges against his business

  • NEW YORK TIMES
                                Former President Donald Trump throws hats to supporters in Wellington, Ohio, Saturday.

    NEW YORK TIMES

    Former President Donald Trump throws hats to supporters in Wellington, Ohio, Saturday.

NEW YORK >> Lawyers for Donald Trump’s family business mounted a last-ditch effort today to fend off criminal charges against the company, meeting with Manhattan prosecutors investigating whether it had awarded valuable benefits to a top executive without paying taxes, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

At a meeting with senior officials with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the New York state attorney general’s office, defense lawyers pointed to the harm that the business, the Trump Organization, could face if it were indicted, including damage to its relationships with banks and business partners, the people said. Meetings to discuss this kind of fallout of a criminal indictment, called collateral consequences, are routine in white-collar investigations and often indicate that charges are near.

The prosecutors did not inform the defense lawyers if they had made a final decision on whether to charge the Trump Organization, said the people, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss a private meeting. The company has long denied wrongdoing.

The meeting, which lasted less than an hour over a video call, came after the prosecutors warned the Trump Organization that they were considering indicting the company and its long-serving chief financial officer, The New York Times previously reported.

The district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., could announce charges against the company and the executive, Allen H. Weisselberg, as soon as this week, The Times has reported. The case would mark the first criminal charges to emerge from Vance’s long-running investigation, which his prosecutors have been conducting along with lawyers from the office of the New York state attorney general, Letitia James.

Several lawyers who specialize in tax rules have told The Times that it would be highly unusual to indict a company for failing to pay payroll taxes on fringe benefits alone; the full scope of the investigation could not be determined.

In a long statement he issued today, Trump attacked the prosecutors as “rude, nasty, and totally biased” and appeared to be referring to the fringe benefits as “things that are standard practice throughout the U.S. business community, and in no way a crime.”

Prosecutors have not indicated to Trump’s lawyers that they plan to charge the former president at this time, but the investigation is ongoing.

A spokesman for Vance, a three-term Democrat who is not seeking reelection, declined to comment.

In recent weeks, the investigation has focused largely on the perks Trump and the company awarded Weisselberg and other executives, including tens of thousands of dollars in private school tuition for one of Weisselberg’s grandchildren, as well as rents on apartments and car leases for him and his wife. If Weisselberg failed to pay taxes on those benefits, he may have violated the law, providing the prosecutors with leverage over him as they seek his cooperation with their broader investigation into the Trump Organization.

The prosecutors, who for months have pressured Weisselberg to turn on his longtime employer, have examined whether the Trump Organization misstated those benefits in the company’s ledgers and failed to pay payroll taxes on what should have been taxable income. In general, those types of benefits are taxable, although there are some exceptions, and the rules can be murky.

A lawyer for Weisselberg, Mary E. Mulligan, has declined to comment on the investigation.

Weisselberg was not the only senior company executive to receive perks. Until 2018, when the company reined in the benefits, the company provided a number of employees with Mercedes-Benz vehicles, according to people familiar with the practice.

Lawyers for Trump and his company are already preparing to argue that a judge dismiss any indictment, and plan to say that there is no evidence that any employee’s failure to pay taxes benefited the company, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

It is unclear whether Trump will eventually face charges himself. The ongoing investigation into the former president has examined whether the Trump Organization manipulated the value of its properties to obtain favorable loans and tax benefits, people with knowledge of the matter have said.

The meeting today was not the first Trump’s lawyers have had with Vance’s office in recent days. On Thursday, the lawyers met with senior prosecutors in hopes of halting any plan to charge the company, according to several people familiar with the meeting. That meeting was arranged by Ronald P. Fischetti, a personal lawyer for Trump. He is a former law partner of Mark F. Pomerantz, a former federal prosecutor and defense lawyer whom the district attorney’s office enlisted to help lead the inquiry into Trump and his business.

On Friday, Fischetti appeared resigned to the prospect of the prosecutors charging the Trump Organization.

“In my more than 50 years of practice, never before have I seen a district attorney’s office target a company over employee compensation or fringe benefits,” he said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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