In Michael Cohen’s testimony to members of Congress in 2019, one name came up more than 20 times.
When asked by House Democrats who else would have access to business or financial records that could implicate Donald Trump in a range of investigations, from his campaign’s connections to Russia to hush money payments involving an adult film star, his former attorney listed the names of several Trump insiders – starting with Allen Weisselberg.
The man at the centre of investigations and criminal charges involving Mr Trump’s business, other than the former president whose name is emblazoned in gold on its Manhattan headquarters, is a press-averse accountant who has presided over the company’s finances for decades.
Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer, was criminally charged on 1 July 2021 following a years-long probe from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and a parallel investigation from the New York State Attorney General into allegations of tax evasion and fraud.
On 18 August, he pleaded guilty to 15 felony tax violations.
Prosecutors allege Weisselberg was connected to a 15-year scheme, including evading taxes on $1.7m of income and dodging “hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal, state, and local taxes,” according to prosecutors.
As part of a plea agreement, he has agreed to testify at an upcoming trial involving Mr Trump’s business and could spend several months in prison and five years of probation.
Since 2017, the company has been held under a trust controlled by the former president and his adult sons – along with Weisselberg, the only person not named Trump to oversee the company’s accounting.
But Weisselberg’s name also appears on other company cheques and documents going back decades, likely making him familiar with the company’s finances, tax returns, lenders and investors.
Given his institutional knowledge, the potential testimony and evidence from one of the Trump family’s longest-serving confidants in its sprawling empire could expose the former president in a potential criminal case.
Now 75 years old, Weisselberg first started working with the Trump family in the 1970s, when he worked under Fred Trump, the former president’s father – long before his son’s legacy of real estate fortunes and failures, bankruptcies, and reality TV ascendance; Weisselberg even appeared briefly as a guest judge on a 2004 episode of NBC’s The Apprentice.
The Weisselberg family also has grown into the Trumps – his son Barry Weisselberg has managed the Trump Wollman Rink in Central Park, and another son, Jack, is an executive director at Ladder Capital, one of the biggest lenders to the Trump Organization, along with Deutsche Bank.
Jennifer Weisselberg, who was married to Weisselberg’s son, Barry, for 14 years, cooperated with the latest investigations and suggested that prosecutors have sought to “flip” the CFO.
Allen Weisselberg also spoke to federal prosecutors as part of the investigation in which Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, after buying the silence of two women who claimed to have had affairs with Mr Trump, including Stormy Daniels and Playboy centrefold Karen McDougal.
Weisselberg was not charged in that case, but Cohen connected him to the $130,000 payment to Ms Daniels.
He received limited immunity in the grand jury probe, which would preclude any truthful statements from being used against him in a criminal case.
In February 2021, the office of now-former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance obtained years of the former president’s financial documents after a protracted legal battle that reached the US Supreme Court.
The office has not publicly revealed the scope of potential allegations, but court filings in 2020 revealed that his office argued that previously reported allegations of tax and insurance fraud justified a grand jury probe into the former president and his company.
In documents filed in the US Circuit Court of Appeals, prosecutors argued that “mountainous” allegations against the president – including misstatements about his business properties to insurers, potential lenders and the government – “could establish crimes” including tax and insurance fraud and falsification of business records, among others.
The nation’s high court rejected arguments from the former president and his legal team that he retained an executive “immunity” from complying with subpoenas, while swatting away the investigation as a “fishing expedition” or part of a partisan “witch hunt”.
In a statement last year following reports of imminent criminal charges involving his company, Mr Trump said that his dealings are “standard practice throughout the US business community, and in no way a crime”.
This story was originally published on 1 July, 2021 and has been updated
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