The interest in cash payments, which has not been previously reported, is part of investigators’ look at whether executives and the company failed to pay appropriate taxes on benefits, including school tuition, cars and rent-free apartments, the people said.
It’s not clear who received the bonuses or how much they totaled.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office and the New York attorney general’s office have been investigating the Trump Organization and its employees for potential tax-related frauds, and charges could come as soon as this week, CNN has reported.
Lawyers for Trump and the Trump Organization met with prosecutors last Thursday and Monday in last-ditch efforts to try to persuade prosecutors not to bring charges against the company.
Prosecutors are also expected to decide as soon as this week whether to charge Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, in connection with benefits, including a rent-free apartment, company car and school tuition for his grandchildren, CNN has reported.
Investigators have zeroed in on Weisselberg in an effort to gain his cooperation but his lawyers recently informed prosecutors that he would not cooperate, people familiar with the matter said.
Lawyers for Weisselberg and the Trump Organization declined to comment. Trump has called the investigation politically motivated and said in a statement on Monday that the company was given one day to “make our case about things that are standard practice throughout the US business community, and in no way a crime.”
A lawyer for Trump previously told CNN he does not believe the former President or his family members will face criminal charges based on his meeting with prosecutors last week. He called the potential charges involving benefits “unprecedented” and added that if charged, the company would plead not guilty and ask the judge to dismiss the case.
Investigators are also looking at benefits given to other top executives, including Matthew Calamari, the chief operating officer of the company, and his son, CNN has reported. The two men, who received cars and apartments, are not expected to be charged in the initial indictments, but they remain under scrutiny by prosecutors, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Prosecutors are investigating the company and whether it misled lenders, insurers and others about the value of its properties and certain tax deductions, as well as its handling of hush money paid to silence allegations of an affair with Trump. (Trump has denied the affair.) While the charges that could come this week are not expected to include those areas, the investigation remains ongoing.
Individuals are required to pay income tax on bonuses as a form of compensation and companies have payroll tax obligations. Companies can also be held liable for actions taken by senior executives and the combination of bonuses and benefits could be construed as a company-wide scheme to defraud.
Tax lawyers have said it’s unusual to see a criminal case brought for failing to pay taxes on perks such as an apartment or company car. Usually, they say, those kinds of issues are handled with civil settlements and penalties. One tax lawyer said cash payments can cross the line into criminal activity.
Jeremy Saland, a criminal defense attorney and former assistant district attorney in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, said proving tax evasion related to cash bonuses is tricky because there are likely few records associated with it. But, he said, it could enhance the case against the organization by demonstrating a pattern of behavior designed to sidestep the law, especially if it involved a significant sum.
“If it’s large enough, it bolsters their case. If it’s insignificant, I don’t know that I’d go down that road so much, because how are you corroborating that there was this cash transaction?” Saland said. “It’s much easier to say he leased this apartment, because you can go look at records and speak to people about who was living there. But there’s going to be no record of a cash transaction. Why give the organization or Donald Trump the ability to separate that out or make that an issue? If it’s overwhelming and you have good evidence of it, then it’s consistent with [the] theory [of the company playing] fast and loose.”
Saland said it is more likely that the district attorney’s office would focus on the liability of the company, rather than the individual, particularly if the numbers are sizable. “I don’t think it’s the end game of the Manhattan DA’s office to go after the little guy,” he said. “You flip up, you don’t flip down.”