Ex-Trump executive Allen Weisselberg begins Rikers Island jail sentence after perjury plea

Donald Trump’s former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg is returning to jail after pleading guilty to perjury over testimony he gave during a sprawling fraud case targeting the former president’s real estate empire.

Entering a Manhattan criminal courtroom on Wednesday in a dark jacket and blue face mask, Weisselberg was sentenced to five months in prison, weeks after reaching a plea deal with prosecutors to admit that he lied to investigators and a judge probing the former president’s real estate empire.

He spent 100 days at the notorious New York jail last year after he was convicted on a range of tax crimes in a separate case stemming from a sweeping criminal investigation into Mr Trump’s business.

Mr Trump’s former financial chief was also a co-defendant in the civil fraud case, during which he lied under oath on three occasions, including in depositions and on the witness stand during a months-long trial.

Last month, he pleaded guilty to two counts of perjury for his statements to state attorneys in 2020.

During his three-minute appearance before Judge Laurie Peterson on Wednesday, Weisselberg told her he didn’t have anything to say before he was handcuffed and walked out of the courtroom to begin his sentence.

In February, Judge Arthur Engoron determined that the former president and his co-defendants grossly inflated the value of his properties to get more favourable financing terms from banks and insurers, a judgment that slapped the former president with tens of millions of dollars in penalties.

Now, Weisselberg could be called as a witness in another separate case, the first-ever criminal trial against a former president, when Mr Trump’s trial for allegedly falsifying business records to cover up hush money payments to an adult film star begins on 15 April.

Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg is not expected to make his case against Mr Trump with Weisselberg’s help, but his long-time role within the Trump Organization has routinely become a valuable asset in a series of parallel investigations surrounding the former president and his business.

Allen Weisselberg enters Manhattan criminal court on 10 April (AP)
Allen Weisselberg enters Manhattan criminal court on 10 April (AP)

During the civil fraud trial, Weisselberg faced questions from New York state lawyers about his knowledge of Mr Trump’s statements of financial condition, the documents at the heart of the case.

Those documents were found to have included fraudulent valuations of Mr Trump’s net worth and assets to obtain favourable terms for some of his brand-building properties.

In his judgment, Judge Engoron ordered Weisselberg to pay $1m – the amount of severance he has received so far – and found that his testimony was “intentionally evasive, with large gaps of ‘I don’t remember.’”

Weisselberg’s severance agreement “renders his testimony highly unreliable” because it prohibited the former CFO from cooperating with law enforcement. “The Trump Organization keeps Weisselberg on a short leash, and it shows,” Judge Engoron wrote.

At the centre of that case was a valuation of Mr Trump’s Manhattan triplex penthouse, based on measurements showing that the property was 30,000 square feet. An article from Forbes in 2017 disputed that claim, cutting the value from $327m to $117m.

At trial, a former Trump real estate official testified that Weisselberg said the property was “around 30,000 square feet” in 2012. Emails from that same year show that Weisselberg would have known that the apartment was less than 11,000 square feet.

During his testimony, Forbes published an article stating that Weisselberg was lying under oath.

Ahead of the judgment, Judge Engoron pushed Trump lawyers, state attorneys and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for “anything” they could tell him about reports that Weisselberg was negotiating a plea deal surrounding statements he gave in his courtroom.

If Weisselberg is now “admitting he lied under oath in my courtroom at this trial,” the judge wants to know about it, he wrote to attorneys. “I do not want to ignore anything in a case of this magnitude,” he said, according to court documents.

Allen Weisselberg is placed in handcuffs after his sentencing in a Manhattan criminal court on 10 April on perjury charges (Getty)
Allen Weisselberg is placed in handcuffs after his sentencing in a Manhattan criminal court on 10 April on perjury charges (Getty)

On Tuesday, Ms James’s office called on Judge Engoron to determine whether Mr Trump, his co-defendants and their lawyers “facilitated” Weisselberg’s perjury by withholding “incriminating documents”.

Meanwhile, jury selection in Mr Trump’s separate criminal case is scheduled to begin on 15 April, where the former president and presumptive Republican nominee to face President Joe Biden in November is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up payments that buried stories of his alleged affairs.

In 2016, to insulate the then candidate Trump from compromising stories of his affairs, Mr Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen allegedly hatched a plan – with Weisselberg’s help – to handle the transactions for the so-called “catch and kill” scheme.