NEW YORK — One of Donald Trump’s most trusted executives stood before a judge Thursday and pleaded guilty to 15 felonies, admitting that he conspired with Trump’s company to carry out a scheme to avoid paying taxes on lavish perks — even while refusing to implicate the former president himself.
As part of the plea deal with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, the executive, Allen H. Weisselberg, is required to testify at the company’s trial if prosecutors choose to call on him, and to admit his role in conspiring with Trump’s company to carry out the tax scheme. That testimony could tilt the scales against the company, the Trump Organization, as it prepares for an October trial related to the same accusations.
“Yes, your honor,” Weisselberg said again and again in response to detailed questions from the judge, Juan Merchan, who asked whether he and the Trump Organization committed the criminal conduct underlying each of the 15 counts.
Under the terms of the plea deal, if Weisselberg testifies truthfully at the upcoming trial, he will receive a five-month sentence. Weisselberg, who was facing up to 15 years in prison, must also pay nearly $2 million in taxes, penalties and interest.
The plea deal does not require Weisselberg to cooperate with the district attorney’s broader criminal investigation of Trump, and his admissions will not implicate the former president. His willingness to accept jail time rather than turn on Trump underscores the extent of his loyalty to a family he has served for nearly a half-century, and it helped stymie the larger effort to indict Trump.
Weisselberg was indicted alongside Trump’s family business last year and accused of participating in a scheme in which some employees were compensated with special off-the-books perks and benefits. Weisselberg, prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney’s office said, avoided paying taxes on $1.76 million of his income over the last 15 years.
In refusing to cooperate against Trump, Weisselberg fended off intense pressure from prosecutors. They saw Weisselberg as the ideal cooperator in their wider investigation focused on the former president and his business practices: He entered the Trump orbit in the early 1970s as a junior bookkeeper for Trump’s father and climbed the ranks at the Trump Organization in the decades that followed, developing an encyclopedic knowledge of its finances.
Despite not securing Weisselberg’s cooperation, the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, may still gain a victory from the deal. Prosecutors now can point to Weisselberg’s admissions that he conspired with the Trump Organization — damning evidence against the company — when they face off at trial. And Weisselberg, an accountant who served a vital role as the company’s financial gatekeeper, will be branded as a felon.
“In one of the most difficult decisions of his life, Mr. Weisselberg decided to enter a plea of guilty today to put an end to this case and the years-long legal and personal nightmares it has caused for him and his family,” his lawyer, Nicholas A. Gravante Jr., said in a statement. “Rather than risk the possibility of 15 years in prison, he has agreed to serve 100 days. We are glad to have this behind him.” Mary E. Mulligan, another one of his lawyers, declined to comment.
In his own statement, Bragg emphasized that the plea “directly implicates the Trump Organization in a wide range of criminal activity,” adding that, “We look forward to proving our case in court against the Trump Organization.”
Addressing the benefits Weisselberg received, Bragg said, “Instead of paying his fair share like everyone else, Weisselberg had the Trump Organization provide him with a rent-free apartment, expensive cars, private school tuition for his grandchildren and new furniture — all without paying required taxes.”
His plea comes as a number of other investigations swirl around the former president related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his handling of sensitive documents after he left the White House. Last week, FBI agents searched his Florida home, a stunning move that underscores the extent of Trump’s legal jeopardy.
Trump is also the subject of a civil investigation being conducted by the New York state attorney general, Letitia James. That inquiry is focused on whether Trump fraudulently inflated the value of his hotels, golf clubs and other assets to obtain loans.
Last week, James interviewed Trump under oath, and the former president invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 440 times. James, whose office also worked on the criminal case against Weisselberg, will now have to decide whether to file a lawsuit against the former president.
The charges to which Weisselberg pleaded Thursday stemmed from a yearslong criminal investigation conducted by the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Like James’ civil inquiry, the criminal investigation came to focus on Trump’s financial statements and the way he represented the value of his assets.
The investigation, which started in 2018, proceeded in fits and starts and was stalled when Trump fought against the release of his tax returns and other records to the office in a battle that twice reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
While prosecutors were waiting for a final ruling from the court, they began to scrutinize Weisselberg and the perks he had received from the Trump Organization, including leased Mercedes-Benzes, an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and private school tuition for his grandchildren.
After they obtained the tax returns, they continued to scrutinize Weisselberg, hoping to pressure him to cooperate. When they did not receive that cooperation, they indicted Weisselberg and the company in the tax scheme, bringing charges in July 2021.
The broader investigation into Trump and his business practices continued, and in December, Bragg’s predecessor, Cyrus Vance, asked prosecutors to begin presenting evidence about Trump to a grand jury. But Bragg, who was sworn in on Jan. 1, grew concerned about prosecutors’ ability to show that Trump had intended to commit a crime, and the presentation was halted.
In February, the two prosecutors who had led the investigation resigned from the office, leaving its future unclear. Bragg has said that it has continued, but there has been no public indication of its direction in recent months.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.