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The Trump Organization has been ordered to pay $1.61 million for tax fraud

Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images
The 58-story Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan is headquarters for the Trump Organization, as well as containing Donald Trump's penthouse condominium residence.

Updated January 13, 2023 at 10:31 AM ET

NEW YORK — A state court in New York has ordered two companies owned by former President Donald Trump to pay $1.61 million in fines and penalties for tax fraud.

The amount, the maximum allowed under state sentencing guidelines, is due within 14 days of Friday's sentencing.

"This conviction was consequential, the first time ever for a criminal conviction of former President Trump's companies," said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Bragg said he thinks the financial penalty for decades of fraudulent behavior wasn't severe enough.

"Our laws in this state need to change in order to capture this type of decade-plus systemic and egregious fraud," he said.

Kimberly Benza, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, issued a statement describing the prosecution as political and saying the company plans to appeal.

"New York has become the crime and murder capital of the world, yet these politically motivated prosecutors will stop at nothing to get President Trump and continue the never ending witch-hunt which began the day he announced his presidency," the statement read.

The sentence comes after a Manhattan jury found Donald Trump's family enterprise guilty of all charges last month in a long-running tax-fraud scheme.

Trump himself was not charged, though his name was mentioned frequently at trial, and his signature appeared on some of the documents at the heart of the case.

Earlier this week, the long-time chief financial officer to Trump's various business entities, Allen Weisselberg, was sentenced to five months behind bars for his role in the criminal scheme.

Trump's family business is known as the Trump Organization, but in fact consists of hundreds of business entities, including the Trump Corporation and the Trump Payroll Corporation.

Weisselberg, 75, worked side-by-side with Trump for decades, and was described by Trump's attorneys as being like a member of the family.

Last summer, he agreed to plead guilty and serve as the star witness.

In the statement, Trump Organization spokeswoman Benza suggested Weisselberg had been coerced into turning against the company.

"Allen Weisselberg is a victim. He was threatened, intimidated and terrorized. He was given a choice of pleading guilty and serving 90 days in prison or serving the rest of his life in jail — all of this over a corporate car and standard employee benefits," the statement read.

At the heart of the case were a variety of maneuvers that allowed Weisselberg and other top executives to avoid paying taxes on their income from the Trump businesses.

The Trump businesses also benefited.

For example, the Trump Corporation gave yearly bonuses to some staffers (signed and distributed by Trump) as if they were independent contractors.

Weisselberg acknowledged on the stand that the move enabled the Trump business to avoid Medicare and payroll taxes.

Weisselberg also improperly took part in a tax-advantaged retirement plan that is only supposed to be open to true freelancers.

While the size of the fine is too small to significantly harm the overall Trump business, there are other implications.

Being designated a convicted felon could make it harder for the Trump Organization to obtain loans or work with insurers.

And the legal peril for the Trump business does not end here.

According to the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, this chapter of the criminal investigation of Trump and his businesses is over but a wider investigation of Trump's business practices is ongoing.

A sprawling civil suit from New York Attorney General Letitia James is also scheduled to go to trial in the fall.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Ilya Marritz
Andrea Bernstein