Prosecution’s first witness in Trump Org trial earns $450,000 a year at Trump Org
- Donald Trump’s real estate and golf resort company is on trial in Manhattan on tax fraud charges.
- The prosecution began its case by calling a less-than-ideal prosecution witness, the company’s controller.
- The witness was asked about his $450,000 salary – and said he had prepared it with Trump’s lawyers.
Manhattan prosecutors have called their first witness Trump Organization tax fraud trial on Monday — and immediately worked to impress upon the jurors that this witness, the company’s controller, was not on their team, but on Team Trump.
The prosecution’s less-than-ideal witness, whose testimony continues Tuesday, is Jeffrey McConney. As comptroller, McConney oversaw payroll and tax reporting in the former president’s multibillion-dollar real estate and golf resort empire for 35 years.
At the start of McConee’s testimony, lead prosecutor Joshua Steinglass asked him how much Trump’s company still pays him – he replied $450,000 a year – and how he stopped cooperating with prosecutors.
McConney told jurors that he was actually meeting with the defense, which coached him during his testimony, only on Sunday, the day before he took the stand.
“When did you speak to Mrs. Necheles this Sunday?” Steinglass asked, in an awkward confrontation, as he tried to reacquaint himself with his witness in public. Susan Necheles is one of the lawyers for the Trump Organization.
“Did she tell you to make sure you hit certain points?” Steinglass asked.
“I believe so, yes,” answered McConney, a large, gray-haired, mustached man.
“Did she tell you to word things a certain way?” continued the prosecutor.
“I believe so,” McConney said again.
“You were unwilling to discuss your testimony with anyone from the DA’s office?” the prosecutor then asked — earning a defense objection that the judge accepted.
“Over the last few weeks,” the prosecutor tried again, this time leaving out McConney’s “willingness” or any of his other feelings, “are you aware that your attorney has refused to make you available?”
McConney replied that he couldn’t really remember, but that if his lawyer advised him not to do something, he generally didn’t do it.
Oh, and his lawyer? McCone testified that she was also paid by the Trump Organization.
At this point, Steinglass requested that McConney be declared a hostile witness, which would have given the prosecutor the advantage of being allowed to ask leading questions, which can be answered with a yes or no.
“His lawyer is actually being paid by the Trump Organization,” Steinglass told the judge, state Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, outside the jury’s hearing. “That’s the textbook definition of a counter witness.”
“He’s friendly,” countered Necheles, the defense attorney. “He answers every question.”
The judge agreed, explaining that a hostile witness statement “is to force the witness to be open and honest and not to hide” and “at the moment I don’t think I have grounds to declare him a hostile witness”.
McConney was allowed to continue his testimony, the bulk of which is scheduled for Tuesday.
Two subsidiaries of the Trump Organization — the Trump Corporation, which employs its executives, and the Trump Payroll Corporation, which pays those executives — have been indicted in a 15-year-old tax avoidance scheme.
The alleged scheme is described during opening statements earlier Monday.
Prosecutors allege that the two entities, operating as the Trump Organization, allowed executives to take significant amounts of their paychecks in the form of tax-free perks, such as Trump’s rental apartments and free use of luxury vehicles.
The defense denies any complicity in the alleged scheme and asserted that she actually victimized the company and that no one at the very top of the company was involved.
No one at the very top — neither Donald Trump nor any of his three oldest children — has been charged or has to be in court for the trial, which is expected to last another month or more.
But Donald Trump’s name came up during McConee’s testimony.
At one key point, Steinglass asked McConney when his boss, Allen Weisselberg, the company’s former CFO and the prosecution’s most important witness, stopped receiving any unemployment bonus pay.
Did that stop around the time Trump was elected president and turned day-to-day operations over to the revocable trust, an entity run by Eric Trump and Weisselberg, Steinglass asked.
“I think it was accidental,” McConney replied.
“Did you say by accident?” Steinglass answered more in the form of spoken-aloud, skeptical thoughts than an actual question.
McConney is testifying with immunity after testifying before a Manhattan grand jury. References to his testimony in court documents indicate that he took responsibility for his actions and did not incriminate anyone at the top of the company.
Weisselberg resigned as CFO after being charged in the summer of 2021; remains on payroll on paid leave. His last reported salary was more than $900,000. Nor is he expected to incriminate anyone above himself.
A third key prosecution witness from the company, whose name has not been released, also remains on Trump’s payroll and is cooperating with the defense instead of prosecutors, it was said during the selection of the jury last week.
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