NEW YORK – Allen Weisselberg, former President Donald Trump's longtime top business lieutenant, pleaded guilty Thursday to all 15 criminal charges in a scheme that paid him lavish corporate benefits in off-the-books payments from the Trump Organization without paying taxes.
The deal with the Manhattan district attorney's office requires him to testify truthfully about the scheme if called as a government witness at the scheduled October trial of two companies of the Trump Organization, which Weisselberg long served as chief financial officer.
The businesses, faced with similar tax fraud charges, could face a tougher trial defense challenge to overcome Weisselberg's testimony.
The Trump Organization issued a statement that accused Manhattan prosecutors of attempting to pressure Weisselberg "to say bad things or make up lies about President Trump." The statement called Weisselberg "a fine and honorable man," and said the companies would not plead guilty because they did nothing wrong.
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The agreement to felony guilty pleas does not require Weisselberg to cooperate with prosecutors against Trump himself, who has not been charged.
However, the deal terms require Weisselberg, 75, to pay nearly $2 million in New York state and city taxes and penalties.
Weisselberg's defense lawyer, Nicholas Gravante, said in a statement issued after the Manhattan Supreme Court hearing that pleading guilty was one of the most difficult decisions of Weisselberg's life. However, Gravante said Weisselberg wanted to end "the yearslong legal and personal nightmares it has caused for him and his family."
"Rather than risk the possibility of 15 years in prison, he has agreed to serve 100 days. We are glad to have this behind him,” the statement said.
Behind Weisselberg's plea deal
The guilty plea resulted from negotiations with the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office after Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Manuel Merchan recently denied a pretrial defense motion to dismiss the charges.
“Today Allen Weisselberg admitted in Court that he used his position at the Trump Organization to bilk taxpayers and enrich himself,” Bragg said in a statement.
Bragg said the plea deal "directly implicates the Trump Organization in a wide range of criminal activity and requires Weisselberg to provide invaluable testimony" in the upcoming trial against the company.
Weisselberg’s sentencing will be delayed until after that trial. Merchan scheduled a Nov. 15 date for a status hearing in the part of the case involving Weisselberg. If he fulfills all parts of the deal, including waiving the right to appeal, he’s expected to be sentenced to five months of jail time, followed by five years of probation.
If he doesn’t live up to the agreement, Weisselberg could face a 15-year maximum prison sentence on the top criminal charge in the case.
Weisselberg entered the guilty pleas after Merchan outlined each of the 15 criminal charges and asked if the allegations were true. Weisselberg, seated at the courtroom’s defense table, in a quiet voice acknowledged his guilt on each count.
Weisselberg, wearing a dark suit and light blue tie, disregarded a request for comment as he left the courtroom.
Weisselberg indicted in July 2021
The case stems from a July 2021 indictment that accused Weisselberg and the Trump Organization of a scheme that operated from 2005 through mid-2021 and enabled the business CFO to collect untaxed benefits. The perks allegedly included rent, utilities and garage expenses for an apartment on Manhattan's West Side, as well as private school tuition payments for Weisselberg's grandchildren.
In all, the indictment alleged that Weisselberg received $1.76 million in "off-the-books" compensation, saving him from paying thousands of dollars in federal, state and city taxes.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Allen Weisselberg, Trump Organization CFO, pleads guilty in tax scheme