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Trump Organization braced for criminal charges from Manhattan prosecutor

The Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, are bracing for criminal charges from Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance as early as next week, according to people briefed on the matter.

Lawyers for the Trump Organization were warned of possible charges related to its accounting of fringe benefits during a roughly 90-minute Zoom meeting with prosecutors from Vance’s office and the office of New York attorney-general Letitia James on Thursday, the people said.

Vance convened a special grand jury to hear evidence in late May, an indication that the years-long investigation is reaching a critical phase. Under New York state law, prosecutors cannot charge a company with fraud without also charging a senior executive deemed responsible for the alleged activities.

Weisselberg’s former daughter-in-law, Jennifer, has told prosecutors about so-called fringe benefits doled out by the Trump Organization, including rent-free apartments, school tuition, luxury cars and other perks. Such off-the-books gifts, she said, were used to encourage loyalty and limit taxes.

Jennifer was married to Allen’s son, Barry Weisselberg, who managed a Trump-operated skating rink in Central Park.

“The Weisselberg stuff is imminent,” said one of the people briefed on the matter.

Donald Trump, who has been agitating for a return to politics and has hinted about a 2024 White House bid, has repeatedly dismissed the investigations by Vance and James, two New York Democrats, as a “partisan witch hunt”.

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Mary Mulligan, an attorney for Weisselberg, declined to comment. Spokespersons for the Manhattan DA and New York attorney-general, which are working in tandem on the investigation, also declined to comment.

Ronald Fischetti, a lawyer representing Trump, issued a blistering statement rejecting any such charges.

“In my more than 50 years of practice, never before have I seen the district attorney’s office target a company for employee compensation or fringe benefits,” he said. “The IRS would not and has not brought a case like this ever.”

During the meeting, Trump’s lawyers argued that the district attorney had not charged big Wall Street banks after the 2008 financial crisis, making a case against the former president even more unjustified, according to one of the people briefed on the Zoom call.

Vance opened his investigation in 2018, following reports that the president’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, had made “hush money” payments to women who claimed to have had affairs with the then-presidential candidate. Cohen testified to Congress that he arranged with Weisselberg to be reimbursed with Trump Organization funds listed as legal fees.

The probe subsequently evolved to consider possible bank and accounting fraud by the Trump Organization, including whether it inflated the values of certain properties to secure bank loans on advantageous terms while minimising them for tax purposes.

Prosecutors have been ratcheting up pressure in recent months on Weisselberg, who was hired by the former president’s father, Fred Trump, and has described himself as “the eyes and ears” of the company.

His co-operation, former prosecutors say, could be vital in bringing a larger case against the company or Trump, himself. Three of Trump’s adult children — Donald, Jr, Ivanka and Eric — have also held executive roles at the company. So far, however, Weisselberg has refused to co-operate, according to people familiar with the matter.

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