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Former Trump Organization CFO to appear in New York court on alleged tax fraud

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump's company and his longtime chief financial officer are in criminal court in New York today to answer charges of a long-running fraud scheme. The appearance caps a busy week on the Trump legal front. On Monday, the FBI searched the former president's home at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. And on Wednesday, Trump was questioned under oath by the New York attorney general's office and pleaded the Fifth Amendment hundreds of times. Joining us to discuss all this is NPR's Andrea Bernstein. So let's start with that New York criminal case and what it's all about.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: So good morning. In the swirl of all of these investigations, the Justice Department, New York attorney general and the January 6 Committee, it's easy to forget that there's a case in criminal court in New York right now called People of the State of New York v. the Trump Corporation. The former president's company and its longtime chief financial officer are charged with multiple felonies for allegedly perpetrating a 15-year fraud scheme that they say ran through Trump's entire presidency. This is the case where the Trump Organization allegedly avoided taxes by compensating the CFO, Allen Weisselberg, with big-ticket items, like luxury apartment, cars and private school tuition for his grandchildren, to avoid paying taxes. Trump's company and Weisselberg have pleaded not guilty.

MARTINEZ: OK, so what's supposed to happen today?

BERNSTEIN: This is the first court hearing in this case in almost a year, and it's officially on for the judge to say whether he's dismissing the case and to set a trial date. He doesn't have to do those things. But he's indicated if he doesn't dismiss the case, he wants to move quickly to trial, perhaps as early as this fall. And during a trial, the public could get a good, long look at Donald Trump's business practices. I should say it's been a rather dramatic year since the last time this case was in court back in September of '21. The newly elected Manhattan DA, Alvin Bragg, suspended a grand jury investigation into Donald Trump himself. That prompted the lead prosecutors in the case to resign. And one of them wrote in a letter of resignation that eventually became public, quote, "I believe Donald Trump is guilty of numerous felony violations of the penal law."

MARTINEZ: OK. Another case in New York brought by state Attorney General Letitia James - where does that stand?

BERNSTEIN: This is a separate civil investigation into whether Trump lied about his property values. Based on evidence and documents that the New York attorney general has already put in the public record, that alleged fraud could have had serious and wide-ranging financial consequences for state tax authorities, the business partners and for investors.

MARTINEZ: How far along is that investigation?

BERNSTEIN: So people who have worked on this kind of case tell me we could see action very soon. It was well-developed as far back as January. And there's a reason the AG worked so hard to get the Trump deposition. Even though he didn't say anything and invoked the Fifth Amendment, in New York, the attorney general can use a refusal to answer as, quote, "an adverse inference," meaning the penalties could be more severe. They could run to seeking to dissolve Trump's business or asking him to pay a staggering financial penalty.

MARTINEZ: All right. One more - really quick. What do we make of this, even as the former president is considering running again?

BERNSTEIN: There are a lot of investigations. And Trump and his supporters have used lots of ink and spent a lot of airtime talking about how all these investigations are unprecedented. And that's true. There hasn't been a post-presidency like this one. But there hasn't been a presidency like Donald Trump's, where his own biggest supporters said to him that his actions could be breaking the law.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thanks a lot.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Andrea Bernstein