NEW YORK (AP) — An executive at Donald Trump’s company testified Monday that he was afraid he would hear those famous words — “you’re fired!” —when he went to the big boss with concerns that two of the company’s top executives were plotting to evade taxes benefits paid by the company.
That’s what Senior Vice President and Controller Jeffrey McConney told the jurors of the Trump Organization tax fraud trial that he didn’t see much good when he rattled longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg or operations chief Matthew Calamari Sr., two of Trump’s most trusted, loyal lieutenants.
“I thought if I started refusing or fighting back, I was probably going to lose my job,” McConney said toward the end of a sometimes controversial fourth day of testimony — a lengthy warm-up for Weisselberg’s menacing turn as the prosecution’s star witness..
Allen was my boss. Who was I going to tell? I wouldn’t confront him about it. I wasn’t about to argue,” McConney said at another point in his testimony. “I was going to do what he told me to do.”
Judge Juan Manuel Merchan declared McConney a hostile witness after prosecutors complained that he had responded much better to defense questions, even though he was granted immunity to testify as a prosecution witness.
McConney, who still works for the Trump Organization and has a lawyer paid by the company, admitted on Monday on the witness stand that he spoke to company lawyers about his testimony when the court was not in session. He said he even did some tax calculations for them on Sunday night.
“I think it’s pretty obvious to the average observer, he’s very helpful to you (the defense),” Merchan said. “On the other hand, it seems like he’s having a really hard time understanding people’s questions and, frankly, he’s having a hard time giving believable answers.”
McConney is scheduled to return to the witness stand on Tuesday. As a hostile witness, he could be questioned for several more hours as prosecutors try to correct his previous trial testimony and his answers to questions during eight grand jury appearances in recent years.
The Trump Organization, the holding company of the former president’s various assets — including buildings, golf courses and hotels — has been accused of helping some top executives evade income taxes on compensation they received in addition to their salary.
The company, which could be fined more than $1 million on conviction, has denied wrongdoing. The lawyers allege that Weisselberg devised the plan on his own, without the knowledge of Trump or the Trump family, and that the company did not profit from his actions.
Weisselberg, 75, has pleaded guilty to taking $1.7 million in off-the-books compensation and has agreed to testify at the trial as a plaintiff’s witness, possibly as early as Tuesday, in exchange for a imprisonment for five months.
Trump Organization attorney Susan Necheles turned part of McConney’s cross-examination into a pre-emptive strike against Weisselberg — citing testimony that he was secretly trying to enrich himself on the company’s pennies.
McConney said Weisselberg and Calamari Sr. leaned on him over the years to falsify payroll to hide perks like Manhattan apartments and Mercedes-Benz cars from their taxable income, in part by reducing their salaries by the cost of those perks and falsifying W-2 forms.
McConney said Weisselberg, his supervisor, once even made him pay his wife a $6,000 one-time paycheck for a no-show job at the company so she could qualify for Social Security benefits. He said Weisselberg warned him not to tell others in the company what they were doing.
“Allen Weisselberg didn’t want other people at the company to know this secret,” McConney said.
Trump signed some salary adjustments — which McConney said Weisselberg claimed were his way of paying the company back for the perks — but it’s not clear if he knew they weren’t paying taxes.
Neither Trump nor any of his children who have served as Trump Organization executives have been charged or charged with wrongdoing.
Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass took advantage of McConney’s reluctance to tell Trump and questioned him on what’s known as re-direct investigation — a chance for him to ask more questions after the defense’s cross-examination.
“You faked W-2s, you made up an employee and gave her a W-2 for work she didn’t do,” Steinglass asked. “Have you ever brought this to Donald Trump’s attention and said, ‘The CFO is forcing me to commit fraud…I’m uncomfortable with this.'”
“No,” McConney said.
Also Monday, the judge in the New York Attorney General’s fraud case against Trump and the Trump Organization appointed former Manhattan federal judge Barbara Jones as an independent regulator to oversee the company’s business dealings.
Jones recently served as special master in two other high-profile cases related to Trump. She reviewed material seized in FBI raids on Trump’s former personal attorneys — Michael Cohen, in an investigation involving hush money payments, and Rudy Giuliani, in an investigation of his dealings in Ukraine.
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