Prosecutors in the Trump Organization tax fraud trial said in closing arguments Friday that the former president sanctioned what became a sweeping 15-year scheme to compensate the company’s top executives off the books.
The prosecution’s attention on Donald Trump shortly before the case was to be handed over to the jury marked a notable shift in a week-long trial that has largely focused on other top executives at the family business. Trump has not been charged with any crime.
“Donald Trump is explicitly sanctioning tax fraud. That’s what this document shows,” Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass told a jury in Manhattan Criminal Court on Friday. “This whole narrative that Donald Trump is blissfully ignorant is just not true.”
Defense lawyers objected to the late trial move by the prosecution, which also mentioned Trump at the start of closing arguments Thursday.
Michael van der Veen, who is representing the Trump Payroll Corporation in the case, asked the judge to set aside the judgment.
“We chose a jury … based on people’s representations that Donald Trump was not on trial,” he said Friday, adding that the prosecution has now “made him an accomplice.”
Van der Veen said that mentioning Trump’s name in association with the crime in this case was wrong. “It’s totally improper, it’s a bias he put on the jury that can’t be undone.”
Steinglass responded by saying, “We have religiously avoided politics.”
Steinglass further argued that he is allowed to name the CEO when the case is against his company. “It had nothing to do with the fact that he is Donald Trump, but with the fact that he is the CEO of the company. If his name was John Doe, there would be no objection here.”
The case is being heard in the state Supreme Court, New York’s trial court.
The 15-count indictment in the case charges the company and former CFO Allen Weisselberg with fraud schemes, tax fraud and falsification of records. Weisselberg was also charged with grand theft. Prosecutors say he used his position to avoid paying taxes on $1.7 million in income.
Weisselberg, 75, pleaded guilty to 15 felony charges in August. No one else has been charged.
Trump has publicly criticized his company’s investigation as a politically motivated “witch hunt.”
Acting New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan indicated this week that he was surprised by the new focus on Trump in the case, but told prosecutors they could make their charges during closing arguments because much of the discussion before trial and during jury selection revolved around the fact that Trump was not sitting at the defense table.
In addition, lawyers for the Trump Corporation and the Trump Payroll Corporation invoked the former president’s name multiple times Thursday and said multiple times that he was not aware of any tax schemes or Weisselberg’s admitted illegal activity.
Merchan denied the defense’s request to mistrial on Friday. “I don’t think a mistrial is necessary, nor do I think that’s even a thought,” he said.
The jury is expected to begin their deliberations in the trial on Monday.