Donald Trump signed a document 30 years ago that gave the true size of his New York penthouse that was later listed as far larger on his financial statements, according to evidence shown on Tuesday at the former president’s civil business fraud trial.
The evidence appeared in an email attachment shown as Allen Weisselberg, the former finance chief of Trump’s company, testified in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ fraud lawsuit against Trump and his Trump Organization. Trump denies any wrongdoing.
The attachment was a 1994 document, signed by Trump, that pegged his Trump Tower triplex at 10,996 square feet — not the 30,000 square feet later claimed for years on financial statements that were given to banks, insurers and others to make deals and secure loans.
Weisselberg said he recalled seeing the email but not the attachment, explaining that the attachments were documents he already had on file in the company’s offices. But in any event, he said, he didn’t pay much mind to the apartment’s size because its value amounted to a fraction of Trump’s wealth.
“I never even thought about the apartment. It was de minimis, in my mind,” Weisselberg said, using a Latin term that means, essentially, too small to care about. He insisted that even if he had known about the size discrepancy, he wouldn’t necessarily have thought it worth mentioning to the outside accountants who prepared Trump’s financial statements.
“It was not something that was that important to me when looking at a $6 billion, $5 billion net worth,” Weisselberg said.
Weisselberg repeatedly said he couldn’t remember whether he discussed the financial statements with Trump while they were being finalized. The former chief financial officer said he reviewed drafts “from a 30,000-foot level” (9,100-metre level) but paid special attention to something “very important” to Trump: the descriptions of his properties.
“It was a little bit of a marketing piece for banks to read about our properties, how well they’re taken care of, that they’re first-class properties,” said Weisselberg, who recalled during a deposition in May that Trump sometimes quibbled about the language used in such descriptions.
“I might say beautiful. He might say magnificent,” Weisselberg said then. “I might say it was cute. He would say it’s incredible.”
Weisselberg said on Tuesday he learned of the Trump Tower penthouse size discrepancy only when a Forbes magazine reporter pointed it out to him in 2016. He testified that he initially disputed the magazine’s findings but said he couldn’t recall whether he directed anyone to look into the matter.
“You don’t recall if you did anything to confirm who was right?” state lawyer Louis Solomon asked?
As Forbes zeroed in on the apartment size question in 2017, emails show, a company spokesperson told another Trump executive that, per Weisselberg, they weren’t to engage on the size issue. A week later, Trump’s 2016 financial statement was released, using the incorrect square footage.
Weisselberg, testifying as a prosecution witness, is also a defendant in the lawsuit. He took the stand after a recent jail stint for evading taxes on perks he got while working for Trump.
James’ lawsuit alleges that Weisselberg engineered Trump’s financial statements to meet his demands that they show increases in his net worth and signed off on lofty valuations for assets despite appraisals to the contrary.
Trump, who attended the first three days of the non-jury trial last week in Manhattan, didn’t return to court to see his former chief financial officer testify.
Weisselberg left a New York City jail six months ago after serving 100 days for dodging taxes on $1.7 million in extras that came with his Trump Organization job, including a Manhattan apartment, school tuition for his grandchildren and luxury cars for him and his wife.
Weisselberg testified Tuesday that what he’s been through in the last few years has “taken its toll” on him and his family. During sworn pretrial questioning in May, Weisselberg, 76, testified that he was having trouble sleeping, started seeing a therapist and was taking a generic form of Valium as he tried to “reacclimate myself back to society.”
Trump, in his deposition in April, said his former longtime lieutenant was liked and respected, and “now, he’s gone through hell and back.”
“What’s happened to him is very sad,” Trump said.
In a pretrial ruling last month, Judge Arthur Engoron found that Trump, Weisselberg and other defendants committed years of fraud by exaggerating the value of Trump’s assets and net worth on his financial statements.
As punishment, Engoron ordered that a court-appointed receiver take control of some Trump companies, putting the future oversight of Trump Tower and other marquee properties in doubt. An appeals court on Friday blocked enforcement of that aspect of Engoron’s ruling, at least for now.
The civil trial concerns allegations of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records. James is seeking $250 million in penalties and a ban on Trump doing business in New York.
Weisselberg’s association with Trump’s family dated to 1973, when he answered a newspaper advert for a staff accountant for Trump’s real estate-developer father, Fred. Weisselberg started working for Donald Trump in 1986 and eventually made $1.14 million a year in salary and bonuses.
According to a severance agreement he signed the day before going to jail, Weisselberg is due to be paid $2 million over two years. That sum is close to the amount of back taxes, penalties and interest he was required to pay as part of his plea agreement.
- An AP report