Trump Organization could face criminal charges from Manhattan prosecutor

Donald Trump
Donald Trump Photo credit: Getty Images

The Manhattan district attorney's office has told lawyers for former US President Donald Trump it is considering filing criminal charges against his family business in connection with fringe benefits it awarded a top executive, the New York Times reported on Friday (local time)

The district attorney, Cyrus Vance, could announce charges against the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, as soon as next week, the newspaper said, citing several people with knowledge of the matter.

"It looks like they are going to come down with charges against the company and that is completely outrageous," Ron Fischetti, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, told NBC News. "The corporate office will plead not guilty and we will make an immediate motion to dismiss the case against the corporation."

Lawyers for the company could not immediately be reached for comment. A lawyer for Weisselberg declined to comment. Vance's office also declined to comment.

Any criminal charges would be the first in Vance's probe into Trump and his business dealings.

Vance's office had said it was investigating "possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct" at the Trump Organization, including tax and insurance fraud and falsification of business records.

Company lawyers met on Thursday with top prosecutors in Vance's office to try to persuade them not to go forward, Fischetti told NBC News.

Such meetings are common in white-collar criminal probes. The Times has said developments in the probe could increase pressure on Weisselberg to cooperate with prosecutors and testify against the former president.

Trump has not been charged and it is unclear whether charges will be brought.

Vance's probe nevertheless could complicate any return to politics by Trump, who has lost some of his ability to communicate publicly by being permanently banned from Twitter and suspended for two years by Facebook.

Court filings and records subpoenaed in the investigation show that Weisselberg and his son Barry have received corporate perks and gifts worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in their years associated with the Trump Organization.

If they failed to account properly for that money on tax returns and other financial filings, they could be in legal jeopardy, legal experts have said.

New York state's attorney general, Letitia James, has also opened a criminal probe into Trump's company.

She has been investigating whether the Trump Organization inflated the values of some properties to obtain better terms on loans, and lowered their values to obtain property tax breaks.

Vance's probe began after Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen paid hush money to silence two women before the 2016 presidential election about sexual encounters with Trump that they claimed to have had.

Trump has denied the women's claims.

Court records show there is some overlap between Vance's and James' separate probes, including their focus on Seven Springs, a 212-acre (86-hectare) estate outside Manhattan that Trump bought in 1995.

James is examining the propriety of a US$21.1 million tax deduction taken when Trump agreed not to develop the property, after local opposition derailed his goal of building a golf course, and a separate plan to build luxury homes was shelved.