NEW YORK (AP) – The stiffest penalty Donald Trump’s company could face when it is sentenced on Friday by a New York judge for helping its executives evade taxes is a fine of $1.6 million – not even even enough 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 court for the sentencing hearing. The company will be represented by its lawyers.
Because the Trump Organization is a corporation and not a person, a fine is the only way a judge can punish the company after its conviction last month on 17 tax crimes, including charges of conspiracy and falsifying business records.
Under the law, the maximum penalty that can be imposed by Judge Juan Manuel Merchan is about $1.6 million, an amount equivalent to twice the taxes that a small group of executives avoided on benefits such as rent-free apartments in Trump’s buildings, luxury cars and private school tuition. .
Trump himself was not on trial and has denied any knowledge of his executives illegally withholding taxes.
While a fine of that amount is unlikely to affect the company’s operations or future, the conviction is a black mark on the Republican’s reputation as a savvy businessman as he mounts a campaign to win back the White House.
Aside from the company, only one executive has been charged in the case: former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty last summer to tax evasion on $1.7 million in compensation.
He was sentenced on Tuesday to five months in prison.
Trump said the case against his company was part of a politically motivated “witch hunt” waged against him by vindictive Democrats. Lawyers for the company have vowed to appeal the verdict.
The criminal case involved financial practices and wage arrangements that the company suspended when Trump was elected president in 2016.
Throughout his years as the company’s chief financial officer, Weisselberg was given a rent-free apartment in a Trump-branded building in Manhattan overlooking the Hudson River. He and his wife drove Mercedes-Benz cars, rented by the company. When his grandchildren went to an exclusive private school, Trump paid their tuition.
A handful of other executives received similar perks.
When called to testify against the Trump Organization at trial, Weisselberg testified that he did not pay taxes on this compensation and that he and a vice president at the company conspired to hide the benefits by having the company issue counterfeit W-2 forms.
Weisselberg also tried to take responsibility on the witness stand, saying no one in the Trump family knew what he was doing. He gasped as he told jurors, “It was my own personal greed that led to this.”
Lawyers for the Trump Organization repeated the mantra, “Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg,” claiming that he had gone astray and betrayed the company’s trust.
Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass attempted to rebut that claim in his closing argument, showing jurors a lease that Trump signed for Weisselberg’s apartment.
“Sir. Trump is explicitly sanctioning tax fraud,” Steinglass argued.
A jury convicted the company of tax fraud on Dec. 6.
The company’s fine will barely affect the bottom line for a company with a global portfolio of golf courses, hotels and development deals. May face more problems out of court due to reputational damage, such as difficulty finding new businesses and business partners.
The Trump Organization’s conviction and sentencing does not end Trump’s battle with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat who took office in January. Bragg said a Trump-related investigation launched under his predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr., is “active and ongoing,” with a newly hired 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 their many assets, a practice she has dubbed the “art of theft.”
James, a Democrat, is asking a court to bar Trump and his three oldest sons from running any New York-based companies and is seeking to fine them at least $250 million. A judge set the trial date for October. As a preliminary measure, he appointed a company inspector while the process is being processed.
Trump faces several other legal challenges as he tries to retake the White House in 2024.
A special grand jury in Atlanta is investigating whether Trump and his allies committed a crime in trying to overturn his defeat in the 2020 Georgia election.
Last month, the House committee on Jan. 6 voted to make a criminal referral to the Department of Justice for Trump’s role in triggering the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The FBI is also investigating Trump’s storage of classified documents.
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