1 of 3 | The Trump Organization tax fraud criminal trial opened Monday in New York Supreme Court where prosecutors argued the case is about "greed and cheating," while defense attorneys reminded jurors former President Donald Trump is not charged. File photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 31 (UPI) -- Prosecutors set the stage in opening arguments in the Trump Organization tax fraud criminal trial Monday, in New York Supreme Court, telling jurors the case is about "greed and cheating."
Susan Hoffinger, the head of the investigative division at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, told jurors Trump Organization executives were paid with off-the-books perks, that included having their rent and utilities paid by the company.
"This case is about greed and cheating -- cheating on taxes," Hoffinger said during opening statements, as she told jurors about the alleged 15-year scheme within the organization to pay high-level executives with luxury cars and apartments to avoid paying taxes.
Prosecutors said two Trump Organization entities, Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corp., benefited by paying less taxes on salaries while keeping high-level employees happy.
"At the end of the day, keeping the trusted CFO happy by paying him more without him being taxed on that income, that was also a benefit to these companies," Hoffinger said.
Former President Donald Trump is not charged in the case, though he is the principal owner of the company. His sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. are co-vice presidents.
The company has pleaded not guilty to the charges and Trump has called the prosecution of his family business a "witch hunt" against the former president.
The prosecution revealed Monday the jury will be allowed to see parts of the former President's personal ledger, in addition to checks he signed to pay school tuition for chief financial officer Alan Weisselberg's grandchildren.
Weisselberg has agreed to testify at the trial as a part of a deal after he pleaded guilty to 15 charges he faced, including conspiracy, criminal tax fraud, grand larceny and falsifying business records.
He is expected to appear before the court next week and no other individuals have been charged in connection to the case.
Keeping the focus on Weisselberg, defense attorneys reminded jurors this case is not about Trump.
"Donald Trump didn't know that Allen Weisselberg was cheating on Allen Weisselberg's personal tax returns," defense attorney Susan Necheles said during opening arguments as she warned jurors to keep their political views out of their deliberations.
"You must not consider this case to be a referendum on President Trump or his policies," Necheles said. "That type of thing has no place in our criminal justice system."
While not a defendant, Trump is listed as a possible witness, according to NBC News, though the former president is not expected to testify.
His oldest sons, as well as daughter Ivanka Trump, could also be called as witnesses, Justice Juan Merchan told potential jurors last week.
As the trial began Monday, one alternate juror who was not able to attend was discharged, leaving a panel of 12 jurors and five alternates, The New York Times reported. Trump and his family members were not in the courtroom as proceedings began.
If convicted, the Trump Organization could be required to pay a maximum $1.6 million, the most allowed under New York state law.
The trial is one of three Trump-related trials occurring in New York City courtrooms on Monday.
Thomas Barrack, a longtime friend of Trump, is facing a trial for allegedly improperly acting as a foreign agent during Trump's presidency.
Barrack, a billionaire investor, was arrested and indicted by a grand jury a year ago over accusations that he unlawfully used his friendship with Trump to lobby his administration on behalf of the United Arab Emirates.
He was released on a $250 million bond and has pleaded not guilty to the charges in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
The arguments are nearing their conclusion in that trial, which began in September. Barrack is expected to be the last witness called in that trial. The jury may begin their deliberations as early as this week.
A civil trial began in the Bronx on Monday in which Trump and the Trump Organization are named as defendants.
Five people had filed the lawsuit alleging they were assaulted and had property destroyed by Trump's security team outside of Trump Tower in September 2015.