I have yet to hear of a kid who says that he or she wants to be an accountant when they grow up. However, in our increasingly complicated financial world, it is a necessary and respected profession, even if a bit mundane. But while all legitimate businesses need a good CPA, where would criminal enterprises be without a loyal and competent numbers guy to provide cover?
Everyone knows that Al Capone went to prison after being convicted of tax evasion, but few know the name of his financial adviser and bagman, Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik, who was regarded as the brains behind the Chicago Organization. And what would Lucky Luciano have been without Meyer Lansky, the “Mob’s Accountant,” who served as the model for Hyman Roth, so memorably portrayed by Lee Strasberg in The Godfather Part II? Not to mention Arthur Anderson, the venerable auditors who met their demise when they assisted in perhaps the biggest accounting scandal of all time perpetrated by its client, Enron.
For Donald J. Trump, that man has been Allen H. Weisselberg, the accountant and Chief Financial Officer of the Trump Organization, a loyal soldier who has been with the Trumps since the days of the family patriarch, Fred, and who may be the key to exposing the House of Cards that is the Trump “Empire” after his indictment yesterday, along with the Trump Organization itself, for tax-related offenses.
Although the details have not yet been released, the office of Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance, Jr. has apparently brought charges arising out of the bestowing of employee benefits to Weisselberg and others that included rent-free luxury apartments, Mercedes Benz cars and the payment of tuition at a fancy private New York school for his grandchild, without paying the corresponding taxes on them.
Now most people know that these types of benefits arrangements go on all the time, especially in the seamy world of New York real estate, and they are rarely prosecuted as crimes. But the presumption in bringing this case is that Weisselberg, facing jail time, will spill the beans on the Trumps as a criminal enterprise and, ultimately, the ex-president will finally face the music.
The dour Weisselberg has been fingered as the guy who devised the scheme under which hush payments were made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal over alleged affairs with DJT that were disguised as legal fees to former Trump consigliere and now family rat, Michael Cohen, who has served prison time for his part in the scheme. He is also renowned for protecting the company’s “every last dollar,” and has mastered the Trumpian art of stiffing vendors and creditors.
The myth of Trump as a successful businessman continues, even though he has relied on Daddy’s bailouts, the haven of the bankruptcy courts and just plain skullduggery to survive. But clearly Vance and New York Attorney General Letitia James are playing a longer game. Trump faces $400 million in debt that he personally guaranteed while his casinos have gone kaput and his beloved golf courses flounder. And it doesn’t take an MBA to conclude that there is something fundamentally wrong in his perpetual practice of valuing his properties high to obtain loans and low for tax purposes.
The question remains, however, is whether Weisselberg will violate the code of Omerta, the sacred Sicilian oath of silence, and leave his boss out to dry. He has been known to grovel before the Donald, grateful that he is not filing tax returns out of a strip mall in Queens. My bet is that he will take his licks and stay loyal, thereby allowing Donald to continue his run as the world’s most blatant scofflaw.
The irony is that if Trump had never run for president, no one would really care about his finances, especially in the sordid world of commercial real estate. But here he is, spouting the Big Lie, deliriously deluded that he will be returned to the White House, where he will be insulated from criminal prosecution at least for another four years. But, just maybe, he will finally not just appear orange, he will be wearing it.