Donald Trump’s convicted finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, returned to the witness box Tuesday – this time, to face a grilling by the New York attorney general’s office about exaggerating his ex-boss’s bank balance by billions.
The loyal moneyman who oversaw Trump’s company coffers for a half-century and went to jail for committing tax fraud as CFO took the stand in Manhattan Supreme Court as AG Tish James’ case against Trump and his top execs entered its second week.
Judge Arthur Engoron has already determined that Weisselberg, Trump, his sons and ex-Trump Org controller Jeff McConney committed fraud by submitting bogus valuations in business deals, exaggerating Trump’s net worth by up to $2.2 billion some years.
The judge’s stunning pretrial ruling ordered Trump stripped of his New York business licenses, setting him up to lose control of prized properties in his real estate portfolio if upheld. On Friday, a mid-level appeals court declined to pause the trial while Trump fights Engoron’s decision, though the decision won’t go into effect until the ex-president exhausts his options.
During the non-jury case now on trial, Engoron will consider the AG’s remaining six claims. They focus on the conspiracy underlying the valuation scheme and the methods Trump and his crew employed to carry it out.
James says Weisselberg oversaw the preparation of Trump’s annual “statements of financial condition” that wildly overstated the value of assets like his skyscrapers and golf courses to banks and lenders by as high as $3.6 billion some years, securing his company more favorable interest rates and other illegal cost-saving measures.
The AG wants to stop Trump and his codefendants from ever heading a New York business again, among other restrictions hamstringing their ability to do business in the Big Apple.
Weisselberg, who in 2015 described himself as Trump’s “eyes and ears from a financial standpoint,” on Tuesday declined to shed much light on the paperwork central to the case, answering “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall” to scores of questions by AG lawyer Louis Solomon.
Weisselberg said his was memory was fuzzy about conversations he may or may not have had with Trump and his ex-lawyer, Michael Cohen, about the paperwork, when he realized certain valuations were inaccurate, whether and when he flagged those inaccuracies to the Trump Org’s outside accountants, who the company has sought to blame, and more.
The CFO placed Trump closer to the action later in his testimony when he told Solomon he shared the statements with Trump before they were finalized from 2011 until his election in 2016.
Weisselberg said Trump sometimes had input – like telling his finance chief to describe his properties as “beautiful” rather than “magnificent.”
But the CFO largely downplayed his boss’s fraud.
Faced with a document signed by Trump proving he knew his Trump Tower triplex was less than 11,000 square feet as early as 1994 – yet valued it for being upwards of 30,000 square feet in the ensuing decades – Weisselberg shrugged.
He acknowledged awareness of the discrepancy but insisted the price tag of his boss’s Fifth Ave. pad wasn’t something he gave much weight to, given Trump’s more significant sources of income.
“[The] value of that apartment relative to his net worth is not material – it’s about 1%,” Weisselberg testified.
The CFO, who made at least $1.4 million a year working for Trump, said his former boss made sure he’d land comfortably after his Rikers stint with a $2 million severance package. It surfaced Tuesday that he still has about half the severance coming.
Weisselberg served 99 days in jail for stiffing the tax man on $1.7 million in fringe benefits, including his grandkids’ private school tuition and Mercedes Benz car leases for him and his wife.
It wasn’t clear Tuesday who among Trump’s lawyers was handling Weisselberg’s defense in the AG’s case.
The Daily News in March reported that the Trump Organization had swapped out Nick Gravante, the CFO’s trusted criminal defense attorney in the Manhattan district attorney’s separate case, over fears Gravante would protect Weisselberg’s interests over those of Trump. Sources told The News then that Weisselberg “absolutely” wanted to keep his lawyer but was “pressured intensely” by Trump’s team.
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