Trump Organization jury deliberating, focusing on last count

NEW YORK (AP) — Jurors deliberating criminal tax fraud charges Tuesday against Donald Trump’s company zeroed in on the last count listed on the verdict sheet: falsifying business records.

The charge alleges that longtime Trump Organization finance chief Allen Weisselberg ordered an underling to make changes to Trump’s personal financial records just as he was closing in on his presidential election victory in 2016.

The jury is in its second day of deliberating charges that the company helped executives dodge personal income taxes on perks such as Manhattan apartments and luxury cars.

Jurors sent notes twice Tuesday asking for clarity on the falsifying business records charge and will hear a reading of related testimony when court resumes after a lunch break.

Weisselberg testified that he ordered accounts payable supervisor Deborah Tarasoff to delete “Per Allen Weisselberg” notations from entries in Trump’s personal general ledger reflecting that Trump personally paid private school tuition for Weisselberg’s grandchildren.

First, jurors asked the judge to reread the charge and the elements they are required to find for a guilty verdict. Later, they asked to again hear Tarasoff’s testimony.

Tarasoff, a Trump Organization veteran, testified that Weisselberg called her into his office and told her, “Go in and take my name off it” in September 2016.

Tarasoff said she didn’t recall ever being asked to make changes to other ledger entries, but that she wasn’t concerned she may have been tampering with records.

Weisselberg testified that he told Tarasoff to make the deletions because “I didn’t want my grandchildren’s names to be in there.”

“I wanted them to have privacy,” he said.

Prosecutors charged the Trump Organization in the form of two subsidiaries, Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corporation. Trump Corporation is charged with nine counts. Trump Payroll Corporation is charged with eight.

After resuming deliberations Tuesday, jurors sent a note asking the judge to reread three counts of falsifying business records pertaining to the creation of false W-2 tax forms for Weisselberg for 2015, 2016 and 2017.

The monthlong trial featured testimony from seven witnesses, including Weisselberg and Senior Vice President and Controller Jeffrey McConney. An outside accountant who spent years preparing tax returns for Trump and the company also testified.

The jury deliberated for about four hours on Monday.

Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty to dodging taxes on $1.7 million in extras, testified that he and McConney conspired to hide extras from his income by deducting their cost from his pre-tax salary and issuing falsified W-2 forms.

Jurors must decide if Weisselberg was a “high managerial agent” acting on the company’s behalf, as prosecutors allege, or if he was acting in his own interest, as Trump Organization lawyers contend. They must also determine if he intended to benefit the company’s bottom line, not just his own.

Weisselberg testified against the company in exchange for a promised five-month jail sentence. Other executives were also accused of avoiding taxes on company perks, but no one else was charged.

Trump Organization lawyers argue that Weisselberg acted on his own, without Trump or the Trump family’s knowledge. The company denies wrongdoing.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass attempted to refute that claim during his closing argument last week, showing jurors a lease Trump signed for Weisselberg’s company-paid apartment and a memo Trump initialed authorizing a pay cut for another executive who got perks.

Trump is not charged. The Trump Organization case is the only trial to arise from the Manhattan district attorney’s office’s three-year investigation of Trump and his business practices.

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