West News Wire: In New York City, the criminal trial for Donald Trump’s family business in real estate has started. The Trump Organization is charged with tax fraud, but the former president is not likely to testify.
After a heated jury selection process in which Trump’s attorneys repeatedly disqualified potential jurors who had unfavorable opinions of the former commander-in-chief, opening statements were heard on Monday.
New York prosecutors asserted in their opening statement that the Trump Organization and Trump Payroll Corporation assisted executives in avoiding taxes between 2005 and 2021 by providing them with “off the books” benefits like opulent apartment rentals, tuition to private schools, and car leases. At least two members of the final jury admitted bias against Trump.
While the companies have pleaded not guilty, the Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, took a plea deal in exchange for his testimony. Weisselberg claims that he dodged city, state, and federal tax on approximately $1.76 million in income, and that the Trump Organization paid his rent and utility bills with company money as “indirect compensation” for his work.
Prosecutors allege that Weisselber’s testimony implicates the company as a whole, arguing that, as its finance chief, he was acting on its behalf.
Donald Trump has not been charged, and while the New York Times noted that his name had been mentioned 10 times in the first 40 minutes of proceedings, he is unlikely to be called to testify.
New York Attorney General Letitia James has spoken openly of her desire to prosecute Trump, even before details of the Trump Organization’s alleged fraud emerged. Elected in 2018. James promised on the campaign trail to “challenge this illegitimate president,” calling Trump “incompetent” and “ill-equipped to serve in the highest office of this land.”
Trump referred to James’ lawsuit as “ridiculous and highly politicized” in a tweet to his Truth Social platform on Saturday. James has already been called a “fraud” and a “racist” by the former president.
The maximum fine for each of the 15 counts of fraud, conspiracy, and grand larceny against Trump’s enterprises is $10,000. Although such a punishment wouldn’t be too difficult for Trump’s economic empire, his detractors see the trial as a potential cause of shame before a likely bid for the presidency in 2024.