NEW YORK (AP) — The stiffest punishment Donald Trump’s company could receive when it is convicted Friday by a New York judge of helping its executives avoid taxes is a $1.6 million fine — which does not is enough even to buy an apartment in Trump Tower.
Neither the former president nor his children, who helped run and promote the Trump Organization, are expected to be in the courtroom for the sentencing hearing. The company will be represented by its lawyers.
Because the Trump Organization is a corporation, not a person, a fine is the only way a judge can punish the company after convicted last month of 17 tax offencesincluding charges of conspiracy and falsifying business records.
By law, the maximum penalty that can be imposed by Judge Juan Manuel Murchan is about $1.6 million, an amount equal to double the taxes evaded by a small group of executives for benefits, including rent-free apartments in Trump buildings, luxury cars and training in private schools.
Trump himself has not been prosecuted and has denied knowing that his executives illegally evaded taxes.
While a fine of that amount is unlikely to affect the company’s operations or future, the verdict is a black mark on the Republican’s reputation as a shrewd businessman as he mounts a campaign to restore the White House.
Besides the company, only one executive has been charged in the case: former Trump Organization chief financial officer Alan Weiselberg, who pleaded guilty last summer for tax evasion on $1.7 million in compensation.
He was sentenced on Tuesday to five months in prison.
Trump said the lawsuit against his company was part of a politically motivated “witch hunt” waged against him by vindictive Democrats. The company’s lawyers vowed to appeal the verdict.
The criminal case involved financial practices and pay arrangements that the company halted when Trump was elected president in 2016.
During his years as the company’s chief money agent, Weiselberg had been given a rent-free apartment in a Trump-branded building in Manhattan overlooking the Hudson River. He and his wife drove Mercedes-Benz cars leased from a company. When his grandchildren went to an exclusive private school, Trump paid for their tuition.
Several other executives received similar bonuses.
When called to testify against the Trump Organization at trial, Weiselberg testified that he paid no taxes on that compensation and that he and a company vice president conspired to hide the benefits by having the company issue falsified W-2 forms.
Weiselberg too tried to take responsibility on the witness stand, saying that no one in the Trump family knows what they’re doing. He choked up as he told jurors: “My personal greed led to this.”
Lawyers for the Trump Organization repeated the mantra “Weisselberg did it for Weiselberg,” arguing that he had misled himself and betrayed the company’s trust.
Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass tried to refute that claim in his closing argument, showing jurors a lease that Trump signed himself for Weisslberg’s apartment.
“Mr. Trump has specifically sanctioned tax fraud,” Steinglass said.
Jury convicted the company of tax fraud on December 6.
The company’s fine is unlikely to be a dent in the bottom line for an enterprise with a global portfolio of golf courses, hotels and development deals. It may face more problems outside of court due to reputational damage, such as difficulty finding new deals and business partners.
The conviction and the Trump Organization sentence do not end Trump’s battle with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat who took office in January. Bragg said the related Trump investigation, which began under his predecessor Cyrus Vance Jr., is “active and ongoing,” with the newly appointed prosecutor leading the charge.
At the same time, New York Attorney General Letitia James is suing Trump and the Trump Organization, alleging they misled banks and others about the value of her many assets, a practice she called “the art of stealing”.
James, a Democrat, is asking the court to bar Trump and his three oldest children from running any New York-based company and wants to fine them at least $250 million. A judge set an October trial date. As a preliminary measure, he appointed a company monitor while the case is pending.
Trump faces several other legal challenges as he seeks to regain the White House in 2024.
A special grand jury in Atlanta has been investigating whether Trump and his allies committed any crimes while trying to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia.
Last month, the House committee on Jan. 6 voted to refer the Department of Justice about Trump’s role in fueling the violent uprising at the US Capitol. The FBI is also investigating Trump’s storage of classified documents.
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