John Colson: Trump’s corrupt chickens coming home to roost
Hit & Run
Just for fun, I’ve been reading through the 2017 book, “Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money and how Russia Helped Donald Trump Win,” about the idea that Russia interfered on Donald Trump’s behalf in the U.S. national election in 2016.
It was written by Luke Harding, the investigative journalist who also penned “The Snowden Files” about Edward Snowden, who leaked a trove of secret files from the National Security Agency in 2013 that, for a while, turned the world of international politics on its ear.
I bought “Collusion“ soon after it came out in paperback, stormed through parts of it in my fevered bid to learn as much as possible about our wayward and likely criminally corrupt president, but never finished it.
Now, though, I’m taking the time to read it through, and it paints quite a damning picture of Trump and his circle of advisers.
And why, you might ask, is a four-year-old book relevant at this particular moment?
Well, it’s like this — as most followers of the news are aware, the first of what are expected to be several concurrent investigations into Trump world have come to a head, in the form of indictments issued by a New York state grand jury against several Trump-controlled corporate entities and of Allen Weisselberg, longtime chief financial officer of the Trump empire.
And just in case you were swayed by the pro-Trump forces who tried to downplay the indictments as minor matters involving “fringe benefits” and other small financial potatoes, think again.
I’ve read the indictment, as well as several articles by different outlets that point out quite clearly this is not a matter of small corporate potatoes. It is a case of significant fraud on the part of such entities as the Trump Organization, the Trump Corporation and the Trump Payroll corporation.
By disguising big salary amounts to Weisselberg (and others, presumably) as fringe benefits, bonuses, mileage payments and the like, Trump’s companies were working to defraud the government of hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue.
“The Scheme,” as it was named in the indictment, stretched from “at least 2005 to on or about June 30, 2021,” as alleged in the document, and was meant “to allow certain employees to substantially understate their compensation from the Trump Organization, so that they could and did pay federal, state and local taxes in amounts that were significantly less than the amounts that should have been paid.”
In addition, “the scheme also enabled Weisselberg to obtain tax refunds (on) amounts previously withheld and remitted” to the appropriate authorities.
In other words, this was a massive cheat on a scale unimaginable to most of us, whose tax liabilities typically amount to a few thousand dollars a year, max.
The indictment calls Weisselberg “one of the largest individual beneficiaries” of the scheme, in the form of “indirect employee compensation from the Trump Organization in the approximate amount of $1.76 million.”
In specific, the indictment accuses Weisselberg of evading roughly $556,000 in federal taxes, around $106,000 in state taxes, and about $238,000 in New York City taxes. At the same time, he clawed back some $133,000 in refunds on taxes paid previously, according to the indictment.
That’s more than a million dollars in taxes, folks, and that ain’t chicken feed.
On top of the tax cheat, according to the indictment, Trump’s corporate entities paid the rent, utilities and other costs racked up for Weisselberg’s apartment on Riverside Boulevard, as well as the costs of his monthly parking fees. As any New Yorker knows fees can add up to a lot of money in a hurry; in this case, it allegedly came to more than $1.17 million.
And then there was the tuition paid for one of Weisselberg’s family members at a private school, which is taxable under the law, and which amounted to yet another $359,000 or so in undeclared compensation paid to Weisselberg from 2012 through 2017.
The list of “off the books” payments to Weisselberg goes on and on, and the indictment includes references to other Trump world employees and other schemes devised to avoid tax payments; falsification of documents to avoid detection; and other acts by someone called “unindicted co-conspirator #1,” who could be Trump himself or some other corporate personality.
Whoever the co-conspirator is, and there is only one listed, he or she also could face charges in the future.
But aside from the financial crimes alleged in the indictment, I can’t help but wonder if there are other legal shoes just waiting to drop, and whether some of them might involve the kind of dark money matters and treasonous shady dealings outlined in Harding’s book.
I’m still reading “Collusion,” so I’ll wait until a later column to discuss the book’s charges, but for now I can report with some satisfaction that it appears Trump’s corruption-imbued chickens are coming home to roost, and I can only hope that some of them will sprout from various allegations outlined in Harding’s book.
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