By Karen Freifeld and Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Donald Trump on Friday will learn how the company that bears the former U.S. president’s name will be punished after being found guilty of scheming to defraud tax authorities for 15 years.
A New York state judge will impose the sentence after jurors in Manhattan found two Trump Organization affiliates guilty of 17 criminal charges last month.
The sentencing comes three days after Justice Juan Merchan of the Manhattan criminal court ordered Allen Weisselberg, who worked for Trump’s family for a half-century and was the company’s former chief financial officer, to jail for five months after he testified as the prosecution’s star witness.
Trump’s company faces only a maximum $1.6 million penalty, but has said it plans to appeal. No one else was charged or faces jail time in the case.
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Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office, which brought the case, is still conducting a criminal probe into Trump’s business practices.
Bill Black, a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law specializing in white-collar crime, called the expected penalty a “rounding error” that offers “zero deterrence” to others, including Trump.
“This is a farce,” he said. “No one will stop committing these kinds of crimes because of this sentence.”
The case has long been a thorn in the side of the Republican former president, who calls it part of a witch hunt by Democrats who dislike him and his politics.
Trump also faces a $250 million civil lawsuit by state Attorney General Letitia James accusing him and his adult children Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump of inflating his net worth and the value of his company’s assets to save money on loans and insurance.
Bragg and James are Democrats, as is Bragg’s predecessor Cyrus Vance, who brought the criminal case. Trump is seeking the presidency in 2024, after losing his re-election bid in 2020.
At a four-week trial, prosecutors offered evidence that Trump’s company covered personal expenses such as rent and car leases for executives without reporting them as income, and pretended that Christmas bonuses were non-employee compensation.
Trump himself signed bonus checks, prosecutors said, as well as the lease on Weisselberg’s luxury Manhattan apartment and private school tuition for the CFO’s grandchildren.
“The whole narrative that Donald Trump was blissfully ignorant is just not real,” Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass told jurors in his closing argument.
Weisselberg’s testimony helped convict the company, though he said Trump was not part of the fraud scheme. He also refused to help Bragg in his broader investigation into Trump.
The Trump Organization had put Weisselberg on paid leave until they severed ties this week. His lawyer said the split, announced on Tuesday, was amicable.
Weisselberg, 75, is serving his sentence in New York City’s notorious Rikers Island jail.
State law limits the penalties that Justice Merchan can impose on Trump’s company. A corporation can be fined up to $250,000 for each tax-related count and $10,000 for each non-tax count.
Trump faces several other legal woes, including probes related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, his retention of classified documents after leaving the White House, and efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia.
(Reporting by Karen Freifeld and Jonathan Stempel; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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