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Trump Organization found guilty of all charges in tax fraud scheme

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Trump Organization has been found guilty of tax fraud in a long-running scheme that continued into the time that Donald Trump was in the White House. A jury in New York found the former president's company guilty on all counts. Here's Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaking with reporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALVIN BRAGG: It underscores that, in Manhattan, we have one standard of justice for all.

CHANG: NPR's Andrea Bernstein joins us now from New York. Hey, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: Hey. OK. So there were, like, 17 counts total, right? Can you tell us more about what the jury found here?

BERNSTEIN: Seventeen for two corporate entities - this trial started on Halloween. And there were long presentations of business records. But the verdict came pretty swiftly, after just a day and a half of what seemed to be pretty careful deliberation. Trump's company had been charged with participating in a long-running scheme to cheat taxpayers, including while Trump was president. Now, to be clear, Trump himself was not charged, and his chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, already pleaded guilty. But the question was did Weisselberg do it in behalf of the Trump Corporation and the Trump Payroll Corporation, the other corporate entity?

And just before 4 o'clock, the jury sent a note saying, we have a verdict. The forewoman stood up, and the clerk said, what say you to each count - scheme to defraud, conspiracy in the fourth degree, falsifying business records? Guilty, guilty, guilty - 17 times.

CHANG: Seventeen times - OK. So Weisselberg benefited by avoiding income taxes on these perks that he got. But the jury decided that the Trump Organization benefited, too. Can you explain that part of this?

BERNSTEIN: Yeah. So what we learned during the trial was the detail of how Allen Weisselberg and other top executives got uncompensated benefits, like Mercedes-Benz leases, luxury apartments, even tuition for Weisselberg's grandchildren, which Donald Trump, by the way, signed those checks personally. All of this was happening by the top executives of the company. More than that, this was a scheme that was carried out by the highest level executives. So what the jury found is there is no separation there between the highest level executives and the company itself. So that was why the jury found the company criminally liable.

CHANG: Got it. OK. So if it is criminally liable, is anybody going to prison at this point?

BERNSTEIN: So Weisselberg...

CHANG: Weisselberg.

BERNSTEIN: ...Is going to prison.

CHANG: OK.

BERNSTEIN: He pleaded guilty last summer and will be serving five months in jail. But as for the Trump company, it can only pay a fine - there's actually no person on trial here - up to $1.6 million. However, there are other implications. There can be difficulties getting loans and doing business. And most significantly, Donald Trump and/or his company have been investigated over and over and over again, going back for decades. This is the first time his company has been charged, tried and convicted of a crime.

CHANG: Interesting. OK. Well, Donald Trump, of course, is once again candidate Trump. And I know that he faces at least one other legal case in New York. And, you know, he's also under legal scrutiny elsewhere, including for efforts to overturn the 2020 election. What do you think today's verdict means for him personally?

BERNSTEIN: So he will have to deal with the fact that his eponymous company is a convicted criminal. On top of that - if a company can be a criminal in the sort of legal sense - but on top of that, he will have to run on his campaign with this now record of having been convicted. Up to now, he's been able to say that hasn't been the case. His lawyers say he will appeal and that they disagree with the verdict.

CHANG: That is NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thank you so much, Andrea.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrea Bernstein