NEW YORK –
Capping an extraordinary week in Donald Trump’s post-presidency, a New York judge ordered Friday that his company and its longtime finance chief stand trial in the fall on tax fraud charges stemming from a long-running criminal investigation into Trump’s business practices.
Manhattan Judge Juan Manuel Merchan scheduled jury selection for Oct. 24 in the case, which involves allegations the Trump Organization gave CFO Allen Weisselberg more than US$1.7 million in off-the-books compensation, including rent, car payments and school tuition.
Merchan denied requests by Weisselberg’s lawyers and the Trump Organization to throw out the case, though he did drop one criminal tax fraud count against the company citing the statute of limitations. Weisselberg’s lawyers argued prosecutors in the Democrat-led Manhattan district attorney’s office were punishing him because he wouldn’t flip on the former president.
Merchan rejected that, saying at a hearing Friday that evidence presented to the grand jury “was legally sufficient to support the charges in the indictment,” and that those proceedings were properly conducted, their “integrity unimpaired.”
If the schedule holds, Weisselberg and the Trump Organization will be on trial during the November midterm elections where Trump’s Republican party could win control of one or both houses of Congress. At the same time, Trump has been laying the groundwork for a potential comeback campaign for president in 2024.
The criminal trial is just one of several legal concerns playing out in real time in Trump’s orbit. FBI agents searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in an unrelated probe Monday, and on Thursday, he and the U.S. Department of Justice called for the public release of search warrant documents.
Trump sat for a deposition Wednesday as New York Attorney General Letitia James wraps up a parallel civil investigation into allegations Trump’s company misled lenders and tax authorities about asset values. Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination more than 400 times.
Trump has not been charged in the criminal probe, but prosecutors have noted that he signed some of the checks at the center of the case. Trump, who has decried the New York investigations as a “political witch hunt,” has said his company’s actions were standard practice in the real estate business and in no way a crime.
Weisselberg and the Trump Organization have pleaded not guilty.
Weisselberg is the only Trump executive charged in the yearslong criminal investigation started by former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and now overseen by his successor, Alvin Bragg. Several other Trump executives have been granted immunity to testify before a grand jury in the case.