Donald Trump’s election as President in 2016 promised huge gains for his family business as it unveiled new hotel lines, held ribbon-cuttings around the world and attracted major tournaments to its golf clubs. Eric Trump, who ran the company while his father was in the White House, elatedly remarked, “The stars have all aligned.” They were ready to reap the windfall.
The period leading up to his presidency was equally heady. The company embarked on years of expansion. It opened five-star hotels in Chicago and Las Vegas, and used some of Trump’s newfound wealth from “The Apprentice” to snatch up golf courses. He also leveraged his growing celebrity to license his name to properties that other companies developed.
Today, the picture is not nearly as rosy. The former president’s company, under legal and political scrutiny, has hunkered down to concentrate on its existing properties. It even sold the Trump hotel in Washington, once Trump’s pride and joy and center of the MAGA universe.
This week will see the start of a criminal trial in Manhattan, where the district attorney’s office will accuse the organization of tax fraud and other crimes.
As jury selection begins on Monday, the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, appears to have a strong case. The Trump Organization’s 75-year-old chief financial officer, Allen H. Weisselberg, the man who knows all the secrets, recently pleaded guilty to conspiring with the two corporations to carry out the scheme — and agreed to testify at their trial.
“Having the company’s top financial officer as your star witness is a prosecutor’s dream,” said Daniel J. Horwitz, a former prosecutor in the district attorney’s office who is now a partner at McLaughlin and Stern, where he defends corporations in white collar crime cases.
At the trial the Trump corporation’s defense attorneys are expected to say that Mr. Weisselberg went behind the Trump family’s back to avoid paying taxes on the perks, and was not conspiring with the company.
Susan R. Necheles, one of the Trump Organization lawyers, said, “Weisselberg’s acts were done to benefit himself and not done to benefit the company and we expect to show that at trial and be acquitted.” Despite the Trump defense laying the blame on him, Mr. Weisselberg, who is on paid leave from the company, has remained loyal and still refused to cooperate with the broader investigation into the former president.
Mr. Trump, who was not accused of participating in the benefits scheme, once again claimed that it’s a “witch hunt” against him and declares himself blameless of any charges.
Does this trial even matter? The potential punishments are relatively minor: the two Trump corporations going to trial, which employ and pay the former president’s top executives, are facing a maximum of about $1.7 million, a derisive figure for Donald Trump, who reportedly accrued hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue during his presidency.
These adversities are nothing new for Trump’s businesses, which have survived years of scrutiny from prosecutors and lawmakers and managed to rebound quite nicely from the pandemic. It recently generated hundreds of millions of dollars from selling the Washington hotel, which, along with other deals, enabled it to refinance or retire a significant portion of its debt. The corporation is not growing, but it certainly is not in a perilous state.
It is now tending to properties it has held for years, including office and apartment buildings in New York, a handful of hotels and 16 golf courses that it owns or manages. A conviction might stymie its growth, but a conviction would represent little more than a symbolic victory for Mr. Bragg. “It’s a reputational hit, but does that even matter to Trump and his family?” said Jason Berland, a lawyer who previously worked in the district attorney’s office. “It’s not like he’s going to jail because of this.”