Paul L. Caron

Monday, December 5, 2022

NY Times: Verdict In Trump Organization Tax Trial Could Come Down To 3 Little Words

New York Times, Verdict in Trump Organization Trial Could Come Down to 3 Little Words:

Despite all the talk of fancy apartments, free Mercedes-Benzes and cash flowing at Christmastime, the criminal tax fraud trial of Donald J. Trump’s family business could come down to three mundane words: “in behalf of.”

The company stands accused of doling out those off-the-books perks to several executives, who failed to pay taxes on them. The scheme’s architect — the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen H. Weisselberg — pleaded guilty and testified at trial.

The company, however, is not automatically guilty of his crimes. Under New York law, prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney’s office must prove that Mr. Weisselberg committed his many felonies “in behalf of” the Trump Organization, a clunky phrase that the judge overseeing the case has, in something of an understatement, called “a confusing area of the law.”

Ordinarily, when a company’s financial whiz becomes a star witness against it, things are not looking great. But if the Trump Organization has any hope of an acquittal or a hung jury after weeks of embarrassing revelations, it rests on this phrase, which has set off fierce semantic debate. The company’s lawyers have argued that the prosecution must prove that Mr. Weisselberg intended to benefit the corporation when he engineered the scheme — and that “in behalf of” can mean nothing else.

Ultimately, it falls to the judge, Juan Merchan, to decode the mystifying words. And in court on Tuesday, with the jurors absent, he appeared to agree with the defense’s interpretation.

What prosecutors will need to show, he said, “is there was some intent to benefit the corporation.”

He added, however, that prosecutors need not prove that helping the Trump Organization had been Mr. Weisselberg’s primary goal, thwarting the defense’s most far-reaching argument.

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