Pressure on Weisselberg is growing in two directions, with the attorney general investigating his personal taxes, while prosecutors in the prosecutor’s office are investigating his role in the Trump Organization, his personal finances and the benefits given to his son Barry, a longtime Employee of the Trump Organization full-time.
Prosecutors are trying to find leverage that could convince Weisselberg to cooperate with authorities, said people familiar with the investigation, potentially raising the legal stakes for Trump and his family. It’s a common tactic used by prosecutors to try to freak individuals out to help build a case higher on the corporate ladder. Vance’s office is coordinating with James’ office on the Weisselberg criminal investigation.
Weisselberg has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
The tax investigation into Weisselberg’s personal finances by New York Attorney General Letitia James opened several months ago and is being conducted by a small unit within the office that has the authority to file criminal cases, said people familiar with the investigation. .
The attorney general’s tax investigation is focusing on Weisselberg as an individual, but could expand to include actions he has taken in his role at the Trump Organization, the people said.
Weisselberg, who has handled the Trump Organization’s finances for 40 years, including as chief financial officer, recently bolstered his legal team, adding Bryan Skarlatos, a prominent tax expert and criminal defense attorney, say people familiar with the deal. Skarlatos is working with Mary Mulligan, a criminal defense attorney who has represented Allen Weisselberg for several years. Skarlatos and Mulligan declined to comment.
One theory prosecutors are exploring is whether there was a practice at the Trump Organization of distributing employee benefits instead of wage compensation to reduce payroll taxes, said people familiar with the investigation.
Recently, prosecutors began investigating the payment of rent for Weisselberg’s Manhattan apartment, the people said.
On Wednesday, Trump responded to James’ partnership with Vance’s office by calling the investigation a “political and partisan witch hunt” and “investigation … in search of a crime”. The Trump Organization lawyers declined to comment.
Even before joining, Vance and James’ investigations have been underway for more than two years and are examining, among other things, whether the company has improperly inflated the value of their properties’ assets to obtain favorable terms for loans, insurance coverage and benefits taxes, while deflating the value of lowering real estate taxes.
Investigators are also exploring whether the Trump Organization committed tax fraud involving its Seven Springs property in New York, as well as its manipulation of secret payments made to Stormy Daniels to silence his alleged affair with Trump, which he denies.
Documents shared by ex-daughter-in-law
Her attorney, Duncan Levin, previously told CNN that she had 25 years of bank records, credit card records and tax records in her possession. Weisselberg also met several times with the district attorney’s office and was summoned to submit documents.
Jennifer Weisselberg was married for 14 years to Barry Weisselberg, who for two decades ran the Trump Organization businesses hired by New York City in Central Park, including Wollman Rink and Lasker Rink. It is unclear whether he is still employed by the Trump Organization.
The lavish lifestyle Jennifer and Barry Weisselberg lived during their 14 years of marriage was largely financed by Allen Weisselberg, Barry Weisselberg testified during a 2018 divorce deposition obtained by CNN.
Jennifer and Barry Weisselberg’s divorce documents show thousands of dollars in payments for cars, rent, tuition, medical bills and more coming from Allen Weisselberg to her son’s family.
Expenses and benefits are what have attracted the scrutiny of prosecutors in both offices. The public prosecutor questioned Jennifer Weisselberg about the benefits she received during her marriage, including access to rent-free apartments owned by Trump, she previously told CNN. More recently, their interest has turned to questions about paying their children’s tuition.
Barry Weisselberg said in the August 2018 testimony that was taken as part of the divorce proceeding, his father paid his children’s tuition at the Manhattan Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School private school, which currently costs about $54,000 per year per child , according to the school website .
“My dad thinks that if it’s involving kids, he’d like to contribute as much as he can to his grandchildren, whether at camp or at school,” Barry testified in 2018.
Barry Weisselberg testified that he believed his father’s payments were “financial assistance” and not loans. A statement of Barry Weisselberg’s net worth filed in 2020 as part of a continuation of the couple’s divorce proceedings said that Barry’s parents paid their children’s tuition and that, “without that financial assistance, (he) couldn’t afford schooling. particular”.
Tuition payments are an area that authorities are now looking at, according to people familiar with the investigation. Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School, which Trump’s youngest son Barron attended, was also attended by Weisselberg’s grandchildren, according to people familiar with the matter. The Wall Street Journal reported for the first time that the district attorney’s office subpoenaed the school for information about tuition fees.
Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School attorney Frank Perrone Jr. previously told CNN that the school would not comment on issues involving students, their families or alumni, but would “comply with legal requests from the authorities.”
Direct tuition payments from someone else to a school would not, by itself, raise red flags for tax law violations, said Laura Cunningham, a Cardozo law professor who specializes in tax law. While annual limits on how much a person can gift to another person are currently $15,000, direct payments for tuition and medical bills are exempt, she said.
But Cunningham said it’s a different story if tuition or medical payments come from someone’s employer.
In April, Jennifer Weisselberg told CNN that she believes at least some of her two children’s tuition was paid by Donald Trump, saying Trump paid for one child and Allen for the other.
“I know Donald signed these checks,” she told CNN in April.
Levin, Jennifer Weisselberg’s attorney, told CNN that she would not comment further on matters relating to her children at this time.
“Jen Weisselberg has a lot to say on this matter, but she will continue to provide this and other information to relevant authorities, including the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office,” he said.
When asked during 2018 testimony whether Donald Trump personally paid for any home or personal expenses during his marriage, Barry Weisselberg said, “I don’t know.”
Emma Tucker of CNN contributed to this report.