Ex-CFO of Trump Org. switches attorneys amid ongoing investigations
By Kara Scannell, CNN
Allen Weisselberg, the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization currently incarcerated at Rikers Island, recently switched lawyers amid ongoing investigations into former President Donald Trump and his business.
The reason for the switch is in dispute.
Some people familiar with the relationship said the Trump Org. would no longer foot the bill for Weisselberg’s attorney, who clashed with company officials over the legal advice he provided to the ex-CFO concerning his level of cooperation with prosecutors investigating the former president. But a Trump attorney said it was a personal decision that Weisselberg made with his family and others, and that the company had no role in the change.
Weisselberg has retained Seth Rosenberg, who is being paid by the Trump Org., about three weeks ago. Rosenberg did not respond to requests for comment.
Weisselberg had been represented by New York criminal defense attorney Nicholas Gravante, who obtained a plea deal that required Weisselberg to serve only five months in jail for pleading guilty to a decade-long tax fraud scheme.
The split with Gravante comes as Trump and his company face several ongoing criminal investigations.
Earlier this month, Trump was notified that he could be indicted on criminal charges related to a hush money payment made to silence adult-film star Stormy Daniels from going public ahead of the 2016 election about an alleged affair a decade earlier. (Trump has denied the affair.)
The Trump Org. also is facing an ongoing criminal investigation into the accuracy of its financial records, although it is not clear how active that inquiry is.
There is no indication that Weisselberg, who is imprisoned at Rikers Island, is cooperating with the new investigations. Weisselberg has worked for the Trump family for about 50 years beginning under Trump’s father Fred, a real estate mogul, until he was let go with a severance agreement in recent months.
Weisselberg has not appeared before the grand jury investigating the hush money payments, multiple people familiar with the matter said.
One person familiar with the matter said tensions date back to the tax fraud trial of the Trump Org. last year when Gravante clashed with company officials, including general counsel Alan Garten, over the decision to have Weisselberg meet with prosecutors ahead of his testimony. Weisselberg also met with Trump attorneys.
Under the terms of his plea deal, Weisselberg would serve five months in jail if he agreed to testify truthfully at the trial of the Trump entities. At trial, Weisselberg admitted his own guilt in an off-the-books compensation scheme, but he never implicated any Trump family members.
The Trump entities were found guilty by a jury and fined $1.6 million. No member of the Trump family was charged with any wrongdoing.
Still, the person familiar with the matter said, top Trump Org. officials blamed Weisselberg for the conviction. Weisselberg had been on the company payroll through the trial. He was let go in January and paid a generous severance, CNN previously reported.
As the company faces continuing investigations into the accuracy of its financial statements, prosecutors have threatened Weisselberg with fraud charges related to his role in obtaining insurance for the company, people familiar with the investigation have said. Prosecutors hope to convince Weisselberg to cooperate in their ongoing investigation, the people said.
Two people knowledgeable of the relationship said Gravante and Trump Org. officials more recently disagreed over the legal advice Gravante has given Weisselberg relating to the new threats of potential insurance fraud charges against Weisselberg. One of the people said the Trump Org. would not continue to pay for Gravante.
Susan Necheles, an attorney for Trump and the Trump Org., said that was “completely wrong.” She praised Gravante’s representation of Weisselberg and added: “Mr. Weisselberg’s decision to change lawyers was entirely his own, a decision which I understand Mr. Weisselberg made in consultation with his family after the conclusion of the trial.”
Necheles said she hasn’t spoken Weisselberg or his family and doesn’t know the reason for the change.
“But I do know that neither (Trump Org. executive) Alan Garten nor I had any role in Mr. Weisselberg’s decision to leave Nick Gravante nor his decision to hire Seth Rosenberg, whom Mr. Weisselberg and his family found without any input from Alan Garten or me,” she said.
Weisselberg is expected to be released on April 19.
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