NEW YORK (AP) — An executive at Donald Trump The company testified on Monday that it was scared to hear those famous words – “you’re fired!” – if he went to the big boss with concerns that two senior company officials were plotting to dodge taxes on benefits paid by the company.
Senior Vice President and Comptroller Jeffrey McConney told jurors at the Trump Organization tax evasion trial that he didn’t see much benefit if he ratted out longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg or chief operating officer Matthew Calamari Sr., two of Trump’s most trusted and loyal lieutenants.
“I thought if I started refusing or fighting back, I would probably lose my job,” McConney said near the end of a sometimes contentious fourth day of testimony – a long warm-up for Weisselberg’s impending turn as a star witness. of the accusation..
“Allen was my boss. Who was I going to tell? I wasn’t going to confront him with that. I wasn’t going to argue,” McConney said at another point in his testimony. “I was going to do what he told me to do.”
Judge Juan Manuel Merchan declared McConney a hostile witness after prosecutors complained that he had been far more responsive to defense questioning, despite being granted immunity to testify as a prosecution witness.
McConney, who still works for the Trump Organization and has an attorney paid for by the company, admitted on the witness stand Monday that he spoke with attorneys for the company about his testimony when the court was not in court. in session. He said he even performed tax calculations on their behalf on Sunday night.
“I think it’s pretty clear to the average observer, he’s very helpful to you (the defense),” Merchan said. “On the other hand, it seems like he has a really hard time understanding people’s questions and has a hard time, frankly, giving believable answers.”
McConney is scheduled to return to the witness box on Tuesday. As a hostile witness, he could face several hours of additional questioning as prosecutors seek to reconcile his previous trial testimony and his answers to questions in eight grand jury appearances over the past few years.
The Trump Organization, the holding company for the former president’s various assets – including buildings, golf courses and hotels – is accused of helping some top executives avoid income tax on paychecks. they received in addition to their salaries.
The company, which could be fined more than $1 million if convicted, has denied any wrongdoing. His attorneys allege that Weisselberg concocted the scheme on his own, without the knowledge of Trump or the Trump family, and that the company did not benefit from his actions.
Weisselberg, 75, pleaded guilty to taking $1.7 million in informal compensation and agreed to testify as a prosecution witness at trial, possibly as early as Tuesday, in exchange for a five-year sentence. months in jail.
Trump Organization attorney Susan Necheles turned part of McConney’s cross-examination into a pre-emptive attack on Weisselberg – eliciting testimony that he had underhandedly tried to enrich himself at the company’s expense.
McConney said Weisselberg and Calamari Sr. relied on him over the years to falsify payroll records to hide extras like Manhattan apartments and Mercedes-Benz cars from their taxable income, in part by reducing their salaries from the cost of these benefits and by issuing forged Ws. -2 forms.
McConney said Weisselberg, his supervisor, once even asked him to pay his wife a one-time $6,000 paycheck for a no-show job at the company so she could get security benefits. social. He said Weisselberg warned him not to tell other members of the company what they were doing.
“Allen Weisselberg didn’t want other people in the company to know about this secret,” McConney said.
Trump approved some pay adjustments — which McConney said Weisselberg claimed was his way of reimbursing the company for benefits — but it’s unclear whether he knew they weren’t paying taxes.
Neither Trump nor any of his children who worked as leaders of the Trump Organization are charged or accused of wrongdoing.
Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass seized on McConney’s reluctance to tell Trump, questioning him on what’s called a re-examination – a chance for him to ask more questions after the defense cross-examines.
“You forged W-2s, made up an employee and gave her a W-2 for work she didn’t do,” Steinglass asked. “Have you ever brought this to the attention of Donald Trump and said, ‘The CFO is making me commit fraud… I’m not comfortable doing it. “”
“No,” McConney said.
Also on Monday, the judge in the New York Attorney General’s fraud trial against Trump and the Trump Organization appointed former Manhattan federal judge Barbara Jones as an independent monitor overseeing the company’s business dealings.
Jones recently served as special counsel in two other high-profile Trump-related cases. She reviewed documents seized during FBI raids on Trump’s former personal attorneys – Michael Cohen, in an investigation related to silent payments, and Rudy Giuliani, in an investigation into his dealings with Ukraine..
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