STORY: Defense attorneys for the Trump Organization arrived at a Manhattan court on Monday for opening statements in the criminal trial accusing the Organization of tax fraud.
"We’re looking forward to a good first day.”
REPORTER ASKING: “What do you want the jury to know?”
Prosecutors say two units of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s real estate empire cheated authorities over a 15-year period ending in 2021.
But company defense lawyers put the focus squarely on former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg… who worked for Trump for nearly half a century... accusing him of betraying the firm and succumbing to greed.
Prosecutors say executives - including Weisselberg - didn’t properly report perks like rent, car leases and bonuses.
Prosecutors said Trump at one time personally paid for Weisselberg’s grandchildren’s private-school tuition.
Weisselberg has already pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the prosecution in exchange for a five-month jail sentence.
In his opening statement, Trump Payroll Corporation lawyer Michael Van Der Veen said Weisselberg was acting on his own and out of pure self-interest:
"Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg…" he said,
"Greed made him cheat on his taxes, hide his deeds from his employer, and betray the trust built over nearly 50 years."
But prosecutor Susan Hoffinger said while the former CFO was a “prime beneficiary” – the scheme was bigger than him…
That the company benefitted by keeping top executives happy and saving on some taxes.
"Everybody wins here," she said, "Of course, everybody but the tax authorities."
If convicted - the Trump Organization could face up to $1.6 million in fines... plus further complications to its ability to do business.
Trump was not charged in this case, but it is among the mounting legal troubles he faces as he weighs another presidential run.
The criminal trial is separate from $250 million civil lawsuit filed by New York's attorney general in September that accused Trump, three of his children and his company of overvaluing real estate assets and Trump's net worth to banks and insurers.
Trump is also facing a federal criminal investigation into the improper removal of government documents from the White House.
Both units of the Trump Organization - which runs hotels and golf courses around the world - have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
A unanimous verdict is required for conviction on each count of tax fraud, scheming to defraud, and falsifying business records.