Aug 18, 2022

Former Trump Organization executive Allen Weisselberg pleads guilty to fraud, agrees to testify Transcript

Former Trump Organization executive Allen Weisselberg pleads guilty to fraud, agrees to testify Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsAllen WeisselbergFormer Trump Organization executive Allen Weisselberg pleads guilty to fraud, agrees to testify Transcript

Allen Weisselberg, the longtime chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, pleaded guilty to 15 felony fraud counts in a New York City courtroom. Read the transcript here.

Transcribe Your Own Content

Try Rev and save time transcribing, captioning, and subtitling.

Anne-Marie Green: (00:05)
So we’ve got some breaking news that we have been talking about all morning long. This is just moments ago. Allen Weisselberg, former CFO of the Trump Organization, leaving a courthouse in New York where he pled guilty to 15 counts of various different infractions that mostly have to do with tax fraud. This was part of a plea deal that we already knew was coming, but we didn’t know for sure that he would follow through with the plea deal and plead guilty, which he did.

Anne-Marie Green: (00:34)
It means that he will serve, or he will be sentenced to five months in jail, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll serve that, followed by five years probation. So what he’s accused of doing is taking about $1.9 million in compensation that he did not tell the tax man about.

Vladimir Duthiers: (00:54)
That’s right.

Anne-Marie Green: (00:54)
We’re talking about compensation in the form of not money necessarily, but tuition, payments, BMWs, stuff like that.

Vladimir Duthiers: (01:01)
So we did get a statement from the district attorney, Alvin Bragg, here in New York. That statement says that, in fact, they are announcing this guilty plea, Anne-Marie, that you were talking about of Mr. Weisselberg. “He pleaded guilty to all 15 charges contained in the indictment filed in New York State Supreme Court.” The statement reads, “In his plea allocution in court, Weisselberg admitted that he engaged in the scheme to defraud together with the co-defendants, the Trump Corporation and the Trump Payroll Corporation, specifically implicating the Trump Organization in the criminal charges during the scheme up until 2017.” Former President Donald J. Trump is president and owner of the Trump Organization.

Vladimir Duthiers: (01:44)
Now, here’s what interesting, as the statement points out, as you did Anne-Marie, the sentence is five months in jail to be served on Rikers Island and five years probation, which is contingent, this is I think what’s key here, on testifying truthfully in the upcoming criminal trial of the Trump Organization by providing truthful testimony as to the facts underlying his allocution and plea. So essentially what the DA is saying here is that Mr. Weisselberg’s sentence, which is pretty light, five months, although Rikers Island is no joke, but that is all contingent on him testifying in this criminal trial.

Anne-Marie Green: (02:19)
Right. So though it’s five months, a lot of people say he might not actually serve five months. There’s good behavior and all that sort of stuff. But you point out that it’s contingent on his testimony in a criminal case involving the Trump Organization, not Donald Trump-

Vladimir Duthiers: (02:35)
Not Donald Trump.

Anne-Marie Green: (02:35)
… not his children. I think that’s really, really key here. Many experts have said that the likelihood of him testifying against Donald Trump, probably slim to none.

Vladimir Duthiers: (02:47)
That’s right.

Anne-Marie Green: (02:48)
But his testimony will take a look at the Trump Organization and, in a general sense, what the Trump Organization, what prosecutors are accusing the organization of doing is kind of artificially inflating the worth of property, and then deflating … inflating the worth of property to get big loans maybe from the banks and then deflating so that they don’t have to pay the taxes. That’s really loose definition of what the organization is being accused of doing.

Anne-Marie Green: (03:15)
But even though President Trump was at the head of that organization, I’m pretty sure they’re going to argue, “Listen, he wasn’t there for the day-to-day goings-on and wasn’t aware of what was happening in the payroll department.”

Vladimir Duthiers: (03:26)
Yeah. He’s still refusing to implicate the former president himself. Of course, none of this is new. We have been talking about it not just today, but every day for the last couple of days. So this is not something that people are going to wake up and find out that, “Oh, hey, he pleaded guilty and we expected that.” The question, of course, is the one that you were suggesting, which is he is pleading guilty and, yet, he refuses to implicate the former president.

Anne-Marie Green: (03:53)
Many of these investigations are inching closer and closer to the center, Donald Trump being at the center. The thing about Allen Weisselberg though is he started with the organization, I think, in the mail room or something, right?

Vladimir Duthiers: (04:04)
He started working for Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father.

Anne-Marie Green: (04:07)

Vladimir Duthiers: (04:07)
So he’s been with this family for-

Anne-Marie Green: (04:09)

Vladimir Duthiers: (04:10)
… his entire working career, practically.

Anne-Marie Green: (04:12)
A tremendous amount of loyalty. Whether others within the organization will display that level of loyalty as the many investigations continue to unfold, we’ll have to wait and see, but Allen Weisselberg does seem to be.

Vladimir Duthiers: (04:25)
Because the others, a lot of their loyalties to the former president are transactional. This is clearly not. So joining us now for more on this is Rebecca Roiphe. She’s a professor at New York Law School and a former of Manhattan prosecutor. So Rebecca, let’s get your take on what we expected to see this morning.

Rebecca Roiphe: (04:47)
As you said, this was what we expected to see. I think it’s significant because, in addition to pleading guilty, he has agreed to cooperate against Trump’s organization. That pretty much assures, I mean there’s no assurance, I guess, in the business of criminal prosecution, but it pretty much assures the conviction of those organizations. A criminal conviction of an entity is a fairly significant thing.

Rebecca Roiphe: (05:17)
Donald Trump’s identity is built around these organizations and very much aligned with the interests of these organizations. So this isn’t something that he’s shrugging about. This is something that he’s watching and concerned about and, certainly, I think, probably sighing a sigh of relief that Weisselberg is not cooperating against him personally. But it is significant.

Anne-Marie Green: (05:43)
I just wanted clarify things. He is accused of pocketing almost $2 million in perks. But what I said earlier was $1.9 million. That’s actually the money that he has to repay, repayment of taxes, interest, and fines amounting to a $1.9 million. So let me ask you this though. The former president sat for a deposition. I think it was last week. He pretty much didn’t answer any questions at all. That had to do with the civil case connected to his organization. Could what we saw Weisselberg admit to have an impact on that civil case?

Rebecca Roiphe: (06:22)
I think not. There are two different investigations, and one has a civil and a criminal component and the other one is just criminal. So this is the one that is just criminal, as far as we know. I mean there may be a federal IRS investigation. I have no idea. But that has been publicly reported. This one about the, as you said, the 15-year off-the-book compensation scheme is discrete. It’s separate from this broader investigation that we know has been going on both in Attorney General Letitia James’ office and in the Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg’s office regarding his business practices of allegedly manipulating the worth of certain assets in order to gain advantages with regulators.

Rebecca Roiphe: (07:12)
So these two are related in that they both have to do with how he conducted his business, but I think the similarities end there. So it’s unlikely that what’s going on here would directly bear on that other investigation. Now, whether Weisselberg has agreed to help with that investigation, it’s entirely possible that he has some inside information about that, but none of that seems to be publicly reported. So it would seem that that’s not part of this deal.

Vladimir Duthiers: (07:45)
So Rebecca, in refusing to cooperate against the former president, I think a lot of people will find that interesting. As Anne-Marie pointed out, he’s been in the Trump Organization for some 50 years. He started out as a junior bookkeeper working for Fred Trump, the former president’s father. But help people understand. If you are the CEO, the owner, the head of an organization, and your chief financial officer’s implicated in this scheme, how does it not implicate the person whose name is at the top of the ledger?

Rebecca Roiphe: (08:26)
Vlad, that’s such an excellent question because what we’ve been talking about is indicting a corporation, and that’s somewhat of an abstract thing because corporations can’t really act except for through individuals. I mean we understand, in an abstract way, what a corporation is, but what does it mean for a corporation to act? It has to act through its individuals.

Rebecca Roiphe: (08:47)
So the way that the law takes account of this or the criminal law takes account of it is to suggest that, look, an organization or a corporation can be held criminally liable if somebody really high up in that organization, like Weisselberg, the CFO, is conducting crimes on behalf of the organization. So that’s exactly what he has pled guilty to doing and when that really does implicate the organization. So then to get to your question, sorry, it was a little bit long getting there. Why wouldn’t that also implicate Trump?

Rebecca Roiphe: (09:18)
It might, but there’s still a separation that might be. It could be that all of this is going on with the knowledge of the corporation and the knowledge of these high-up individuals and not the knowledge of the former president. So in order to build a criminal case against former President Trump, you would have to say, “He knew that this was going on. He was involved in it in some way or approved of it in some way.”

Rebecca Roiphe: (09:42)
That’s a hard thing for the government to prove even if, as a kind of common sense matter, we all think, “Well, I mean he’s said that he’s involved in his business pretty directly and his business is doing this. How could he not know?” That doesn’t really amount to proof beyond a reasonable doubt. So it’s a very hard thing to build these criminal cases, even when it seems likely that the former president likely knew about it and was involved in some way.

Anne-Marie Green: (10:13)
I’m just going to quickly read a portion of a statement from Weisselberg’s attorney that was released. “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 nightmare it has caused for him and his family. 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.”

Anne-Marie Green: (10:40)
It’s quite a discount on the amount of time that he could have spent behind bars. Why do you suppose they gave him such a good deal?

Rebecca Roiphe: (10:51)
Again, it has to be because of his agreement to cooperate against the organization, because everything that he said in court, we heard it, but the jury in the trial against the organization would not have heard that because it is essentially not admissible in the criminal trial against the organization. So the prosecutors needed him to say what he said in court today in that trial, and that’s what they got.

Rebecca Roiphe: (11:21)
That’s a win for them because there’s always some question in a case like this that one juror didn’t believe it or didn’t feel that it was fully proved, and it would be a much more difficult case to prove without Weisselberg’s cooperation. So what the government got out of this was his cooperation and what he got out of it, as you say, is this significant discount on his sentence.

Vladimir Duthiers: (11:46)
But, Rebecca, so I’m reminded of another trial that involved finances. Of course, I’m talking about Bernie Madoff. Back in 2014, Bernie Madoff tried to tell Preet Bharara, who was then the United States Attorney for the Southern District, that he acted alone, that no one else in the company knew that he was operating a Ponzi scheme. And yet, Preet Bharara went after several individuals and ultimately convicted some of those individuals, even though you had the guy who owned the company’s saying, “No, no, no, no. I did this all by myself.”

Vladimir Duthiers: (12:21)
So I’m thinking about it in the reverse here. You’ve got the CFO. He’s refusing to testify against the former president. Okay, fine. But can we really believe if the CFO is saying, “I have nothing to offer on the former president,” that he is not somehow aware? What do you think are the chances that former President Trump could be in legal jeopardy here? Because it seems weird to me that Bernie Madoff can say, “I did this all by myself,” and the feds would not say, “Well, okay, we got to take the word of the guy who’s at the top of the books here.” Here, you’ve got the guy who’s the number two saying, “No, no, no, no, this is all me,” or, “I’m pleading guilty to what you’re accusing me of, but I have no other information on anybody else.” I’m not a lawyer. So this is just me thinking about-

Rebecca Roiphe: (13:04)
Yeah. No, it makes sense.

Vladimir Duthiers: (13:04)
…. what happened with Madoff back in 2014?

Rebecca Roiphe: (13:07)
It totally makes sense. You’re thinking like the prosecutors think, which is they would look at this as they looked at the Bernie Madoff scheme, which is to be extremely suspicious of that statement. It makes no sense. Obviously, that’s a self-serving statement. You have loyalty. You’ve gotten a lot. You’ve made a lot of money due to the former president and his family, and you want to protect them. They see that. They understand that. They aren’t believing him. The question is whether they can prove it, and that depends on the facts of each case.

Rebecca Roiphe: (13:42)
So in the Bernie Madoff case, as you said, the prosecutors looked at all the evidence and decided that they could build this case without Bernie Madoff, and they could build a case against others. In this case, it remains to be seen whether or not they think they can build the case against the former president without the cooperation of his CFO. Sometimes prosecutors can do it, especially if there’s good documentary evidence. In this case, actually, when the indictment came out, if you remember, there were essentially two sets of books and records, which is as close as you get to a smoking gun in a white-collar case.

Rebecca Roiphe: (14:24)
There was one set of books and records that was meant to be shown to the public and another that was keeping track of these illegal payments internally so that they knew how much these individuals were getting paid. Well, I mean that’s pretty much, as far as I know, that’s a great case. So then the missing link is simply who knew what when, who intended what when. We now have several pieces of the puzzle. We know that Weisselberg has admitted that he was involved and that he did this with the company on behalf of the company, or at least that’s what he said in his plea allocution and will say at the trial.

Rebecca Roiphe: (15:01)
So the remaining piece for prosecutors to prove was that the former president himself knew about this and approved of it. It’s like without being able to look behind that curtain, I just don’t know. I don’t know what other information they have. But these white-collar cases just it always comes down to these questions of intent and knowledge, and they’re hard to proof. So again, when the next Bernie Madoff comes, we should all be impressed by the prosecution being able to put these pieces together.

Rebecca Roiphe: (15:36)
It depends on the document trail, and it also depends on what kind of cooperating witnesses you have. Here we have what we’ve seen, which is the unwillingness of Weisselberg to serve as a cooperating witness against the former president. That is assuming that the former president did, in fact, know about this which, again, we don’t know.

Anne-Marie Green: (15:57)
Rebecca Roiphe, I want to thank you very much. I want to read a statement from the Attorney General Letitia James here, releasing a statement on this guilty plea. “There is zero tolerance for individuals who defraud the state and cheat our communities. For years, Mr. Weisselberg broke the law to line his own pockets and fund a lavish lifestyle. Today that misconduct ends. Let this guilty plea send a loud and clear message. We will crack down on anyone who steals from the public for personal gain because no one is above the law.”

Vladimir Duthiers: (16:29)
That’s Letitia James and her statement she just released on the news that the former CFO of the Trump Organization has pleaded guilty to these crimes.

Transcribe Your Own Content

Try Rev and save time transcribing, captioning, and subtitling.