United States jurors in the Trump Organization’s tax fraud lawsuit have begun counseling after four weeks of testimony and arguments about executive salary practices at Donald Trump’s real estate companies, which prosecutors say were a years-long criminal scheme.
The former US president’s company was tasked in 2021 with paying personal expenses for some executives without reporting the payments as income and compensating them as if they were independent contractors.
The company’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, pleaded guilty and testified for prosecutors. Trump, who announced last month that he would seek the presidency again in 2024, was not indicted in the case.
Judge Juan Merchan of the New York State Court in Manhattan briefed jurors on the law ahead of Monday’s deliberations and reminded them that they had pledged not to let their opinion of Trump influence their verdict.
“Donald Trump and his family are not in court here before you,” Merchan said. “You must set aside any prejudices or prejudices you may have in favor of or against Mr. Trump and his family.”
However, district attorney Joshua Steinglass said in his concluding arguments on Friday that Trump was aware of the program. It was part of the prosecution’s effort to counter the defense’s argument that Weisselberg, 75, was only trying to help himself and hide his misconduct from the Trump family.
“This whole narrative that Mr. Trump was blissfully ignorant is simply not real,” Steinglass told the jury. “He’s not on trial here, but that doesn’t mean you should believe the defense’s narrative that Allen Weisselberg… has gone rogue.”
Trump, a Republican, has described the allegations as politically motivated. Alvin Bragg, the current Manhattan district attorney, is a Democrat, as is the district attorney who filed the charges last year, Cyrus Vance.
During the approximately four-hour deliberations on Monday, the jury sent a notice to the judge asking for clarification of one of the allegations. The discussions will resume on Tuesday.
The Trump organization, which has pleaded not guilty, faces fines of up to $1.6 million if convicted.
His lawyers have argued that an external accountant from Mazar’s USA, who prepared tax returns for the company, should have uncovered Weisselberg’s fraud and reported the matter.
Accountant Donald Bender “ignored Allen Weisselberg’s misconduct,” defense lawyer Susan Necheles said in her concluding arguments on Thursday. “President Trump relied on Mazars. He relied on Donald Bender to be the watchdog.”
Bender, who was granted immunity from prosecution, was the main witness summoned by the defense.
He testified that he trusted Weisselberg to have given him accurate financial information that he could include in the company’s tax returns and was not required to conduct any further investigation.
Mazars severed ties with the Trump Organization this year.
The case is one of a number of legal issues Trump is facing. The Department of Justice is currently investigating the former president’s efforts to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election and his removal of government documents from the White House following his departure from office. He is also facing an investigation in Georgia over the move to reverse his election loss in that state.