NEW YORK – Lawyers for Donald Trump's longtime finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, are asking a judge to throw out tax fraud charges against him, arguing New York prosecutors targeted him as punishment because he wouldn't flip on the former president.
In court papers filed Tuesday, Weisselberg's lawyer said the Trump Organization's CFO is “collateral damage” in a “singular crusade” by Democratic prosecutors to have him implicate and help put the Republican ex-president behind bars.
“Mr. Weisselberg’s unequal and unfair treatment is the consequence of his proximity to Donald J. Trump, and his rejection of (prosecutors') demand that he cooperate with (their) investigation targeting Mr. Trump and his businesses,” Weisselberg lawyers wrote.
Weisselberg was arrested last July on charges he collected more than $1.7 million in off-the-books compensation, including apartment rent, car payments and school tuition. Trump’s company is also charged in the case, which prosecutors have described as a “sweeping and audacious” tax fraud scheme.
Weisselberg and the Trump Organization have pleaded not guilty. Lawyers for the company also sought Tuesday to have the company's charges dismissed.
Weisselberg, 74, is the only Trump executive charged in the yearslong criminal investigation started by former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and now overseen by his successor, Alvin Bragg. Several other Trump executives have been granted immunity to testify before a grand jury in the case.
A message seeking comment was left Wednesday with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. Prosecutors are expected to respond to Weisselberg's motion to dismiss in a court filing in the coming weeks.
Judge Juan Manuel Merchan has given both sides until spring to file motions and responses and indicated he'll decide on them at a July hearing, the next time Weisselberg is due in court. Merchan has said he'll likely schedule a trial for the end of August or beginning of September.
Weisselberg’s lawyers, who include Mary Mulligan, Bryan Skarlatos and Rita Glavin, have also asked Merchan to consider throwing out part of the indictment and suppressing statements made while in custody on July 1, if the judge doesn't agree to dismiss the case entirely. Glavin also represents former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Weisselberg's lawyers argued that some charges against him are outside the statute of limitations or are otherwise legally deficient. They said Weisselberg's statements to investigators during the eight hours he was in custody after his arrest shouldn't be admissible because they were taken in violation of his rights.
D.A.'s office investigators struck up conversations with Weisselberg that were “laser-focused on issues relevant to the indictment," even though they were aware that Weisselberg was represented by counsel that wasn't present at the time, the lawyers wrote. The conversations constituted an interrogation and violated Weisselberg’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, they said.
Trump has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but prosecutors noted he signed some of the checks at the center of Weisselberg's case, which they said stemmed from a 15-year scheme “orchestrated by the most senior executives” at the Trump Organization.
A judge last week ruled that Trump and his two eldest children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. must answer questions under oath in a parallel civil investigation into his business practices being run by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
James, a Democrat, said her investigation has uncovered evidence Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, used “fraudulent or misleading” valuations of assets like golf courses and skyscrapers to get loans and tax benefits. Trump's longtime accounting firm recently dumped him after warning him not to rely on years of financial statements it prepared based on his company’s valuations, given questions about their accuracy.
Although James’ civil investigation is separate from the criminal investigation, her office has been involved in both, dispatching several lawyers to work side-by-side with prosecutors from the Manhattan D.A.’s office. It was evidence uncovered in James’ civil investigation that led to criminal charges against Weisselberg.
In a statement last week, Trump said he believed Weisselberg was innocent and that the charges against the man he described as “a 74-year-old long-term and wonderful employee" were overblown.
The charge “is that he did not pay taxes on a company car or a company apartment (Do others pay such a tax? Did Cy Vance pay a tax on his car?), and a charge having to do with my paying for the education of his grandchildren,” Trump said. “Murderers all over the city and they are worried about me helping with young children’s education?"
In a separate ruling, a judge last week ordered Weisselberg to sit for a limited deposition in Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine’s lawsuit accusing Trump’s inaugural committee of grossly overspending at Trump’s Pennsylvania Avenue hotel to enrich Trump’s family.