Trump Org controller deemed hostile at trial, pins fraud on embattled CFO Allen Weisselberg
New York Daily News, The (NY)
The loyal controller of the Trump Organization was declared a hostile witness Monday as he sought to absolve his longtime employer of criminal wrongdoing for a multi-year tax fraud scheme by pinning it all on his boss.
Testifying for the prosecution under immunity, Jeffrey McConney, a senior vice president, admitted to regularly helping executives cheat on their taxes while working down the hall from Donald Trump on Fifth Ave.
The primary beneficiaries, said the 67-year-old McConney, were the senior-most Trump Org executives outside of the Trump family: his boss, Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, and the company’s chief operating officer Matthew Calamari.
For years, both men and their adult sons and wives enjoyed company-provided rent-free apartments and Mercedes car leases on which they didn’t pay taxes. McConney even signed off on a $6,000 payroll check for Weisselberg’s wife, Hilary, one December so she’d qualify for Social Security — despite having never worked for the real estate business.
McConney, who oversaw the payroll department at the Trump Org, claimed the fraud was not known to the company or for its benefit, as the Manhattan district attorney has alleged. He said it was solely for Weisselberg’s enrichment — who’s already been convicted, having pleaded guilty in August to felonies he faced alongside the Trump entities in exchange for a reduced sentence.
“Allen was the boss. Who was I gonna tell? I wasn’t gonna confront him about it. I wasn’t gonna argue with him. This was what Allen wanted,” McConney told Trump Org lawyer Susan Necheles on cross-examination.
McConney acknowledged engaging in illegal activity multiple times but claimed he hadn’t known it at the time. He tried at one point to walk back an answer he gave last week about Weisselberg once telling him Trump was personally aware of the tax cheating, which McConney also told a grand jury. He told Necheles he’d feared prosecutors would accuse him of perjury for changing his answer at trial.
“I remember my conversation with Mr. Weisselberg; I don’t remember him mentioning Mr. Trump,” he said.
On redirect, an exasperated Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass succeeded in his second request to Judge Juan Merchan to have McConney declared an adverse witness. He argued the controller was being “unbelievably” evasive and refusing “to speak English” compared to his demeanor under questioning by Necheles. Judge Merchan agreed it was “clear to the average observer” McConney was a more helpful witness to the defense.
McConney was granted immunity after testifying before the grand jury that brought the indictment against Weisselberg and the Trump companies. Jurors have learned he’s been in close contact with Trump Org lawyers leading up to the trial and throughout his testimony and that the company is paying his lawyers’ fees.
McConney, at times tongue-tied on redirect, told Steinglass that running crimes committed on-the-job up the chain was simply above his pay grade.
“Did you ever bring any of this to Donald Trump’s attention? ‘Hey, the CFO’s making me commit fraud!’” Steinglass asked McConney.
“No,” said McConney, later adding, “I thought if I started refusing or fighting back, I’d probably lose my job.”
Weisselberg, still on the Trump Org’s payroll along with McConney, is expected to take the witness stand on Tuesday. If his testimony satisfies the prosecution and the judge, Judge Merchan will sentence him to five months on Rikers Island.
The criminal case is in a constellation swirling around former President Trump as he nears a possible announcement that he’ll run for a second term.
Also Monday, in a parallel civil case against his family business brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, a judge appointed retired Judge Barbara Jones to oversee his company’s business dealings while the case plays out.