A Divorce Raised Questions, Then Aided the Probe of Trump’s CFO

Jennifer Weisselberg at her apartment in the Upper West Side neighborhood of New York, U.S. (Photographer: Amir Hamja/Bloomberg)

A Divorce Raised Questions, Then Aided the Probe of Trump’s CFO

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Part of Allen Weisselberg’s legal troubles began when his former daughter-in-law couldn’t get the numbers in her divorce proceedings to add up.

Jennifer Weisselberg says she was befuddled. The lifestyle she’d shared with her ex-husband, Barry Weisselberg -- including an apartment overlooking Central Park and tuition for two children at Manhattan’s Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, currently listed at more than $50,000 a year per student -- appeared to far outstrip his pay as a manager at the Trump Organization-run Wollman Rink in Central Park. In 2016, for example, he made $211,000, tax returns show.

A Divorce Raised Questions, Then Aided the Probe of Trump’s CFO

As the couple set about dividing their financial lives, she feared she wasn’t getting a proper accounting. “How was I going to live in the city and keep up without depriving the kids into a life of, like, living in a studio?” she said in a June 29 interview. “They were offering me nothing.” Peter Stambleck, who has represented Barry Weisselberg in the divorce, didn’t respond to a detailed request for comment.

Although she was wary of her ex-husband’s family -- and particularly Allen Weisselberg, 73, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization and a close business adviser to then-President Donald Trump -- Jennifer Weisselberg shared joint tax records and court transcripts with Bloomberg News. For a November 2020 story that highlighted the potential tax implications of some benefits her ex-husband received from Trump’s companies, she openly provided key documents. Soon, prosecutors with the New York Attorney General and the Manhattan District Attorney were calling her and asking for records, she said.

On Thursday, Allen Weisselberg pleaded not guilty to participating in an alleged tax fraud scheme that prosecutors said was designed to compensate Trump Organization employees with benefits that weren’t disclosed to tax authorities. The indictment included the now-divorced couple’s use of two company apartments, and tuition for their children. After years’ worth of investigations into the Trump Organization’s business partnerships, lending arrangements and potential conflicts of interest that have so far generated little more than headlines, the comparatively prosaic tax matters that Jennifer Weisselberg flagged have become part of the criminal charges brought against the company and her former father-in-law. Neither Jennifer nor Barry Weisselberg has been charged with any wrongdoing.

“I was fighting to provide for my kids,” she said, explaining her decision to work with prosecutors. “They wanted to set up a situation where, whenever they were with Barry and the Weisselbergs, they have this life and they were going to Miami, Doral, and Vancouver, skiing, and everything was great. And they felt comfortable and safe because their grandfather pays for school and their grandfather pays for camp. But when it came to me, they wanted to act like it was going to be miserable and scary and ‘good luck if you can eat.’”

For months, Weisselberg said, her life has been peppered with video conference calls with prosecutors. She has also become a frequent guest on cable television news shows, playing a similar role to others who turned against Trump’s interests: Michael Cohen, the former president’s one-time fixer and personal lawyer, and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who helped plan Trump’s 2017 inaugural celebrations before aiding investigators in probes of them.

Records Provided

The records that Jennifer Weisselberg provided to Manhattan prosecutors include joint tax records, bank statements, and documents pertaining to apartments and other assets, her attorney, Duncan Levin, said.

An attorney for the Trump Organization, Ronald Fischetti, slammed the indictment Thursday, saying, “this is all they have?” He said he’d never seen prosecutors pursue a similar case against a company, and he accused prosecutors of pressing the matter solely “because it is ‘Trump.’” He added: “As far as we are concerned, this case is over.” Lawyers for Allen Weisselberg didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment after the indictment was made public.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office hasn’t publicly described how its case, including allegations that Allen Weisselberg himself received undisclosed income in the form of benefits, came together. But Jennifer Weisselberg’s own counsel describes her cooperation as key to prosecutors’ evidence.

“The DA’s office has taken Jennifer very seriously,” said Levin, who previously served as chief of asset forfeiture for the Manhattan district attorney’s office from 2011 to 2014. “She is an invaluable witness who’s able to breathe life into the documents that are critical to the DA’s case.”

Complicated Relationship

Her relationship to her ex-husband’s family remains complicated. The divorce became final in 2018, but the parties are still in post-judgment proceedings. Barry Weisselberg, a sneaker collector who sometimes DJed events at Wollman Rink, currently has custody of her children. Jennifer Weisselberg said she has been unable to pay her rent, and she’s being evicted from an apartment where Allen Weisselberg has served as her guarantor.

She also said the judge in her divorce case appointed a guardian for her -- and, indeed, the docket sheet that lists filings in the divorce case notes the appointment of a “guardian ad litem.” Judges presiding over a court case make such appointments when “the court feels the person in question can’t adequately represent their own interests” in that case, Matthew Raphan of Raphan Law Partners said. (Raphan was speaking broadly and not about Weisselberg’s particular case.)

She said the appointment was unnecessary, adding that she wanted to raise it in an interview to try to preclude any questions about her judgment. “They know there’s nothing wrong with me,” she said. “I’ve been to every therapist, every hospital you can imagine.”

As for the records she has shared with prosecutors, Robert Georges, an attorney who represented her from December through early 2021, says he hired a forensic accountant to review them. “The documents speak for themselves,” Georges, a founding partner of Konta, Georges & Buza P.C. said this week.

Assembling the documents proved a challenge, Jennifer Weisselberg says. In an August 2018 pre-trial examination in their divorce case, Barry Weisselberg attributed costs like rent, tuition, summer camp and vehicle leases to his father, but she says she couldn’t tell whether the payments were family gifts or employee benefits.

‘Started to Cry’

She says she was stymied for weeks in her efforts to obtain joint tax records from her own tax lawyer, Donald Bender, a Mazars USA LLP partner who also handled tax matters for the Trump Organization. In a statement Thursday, Mazars said that it doesn’t discuss matters involving any current or former clients.

When she finally gained access to the records, “I started to cry,” Jennifer Weisselberg says. “I remember going, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. This might be what I needed.’” The couple’s use of an apartment on Central Park South that was owned by the Trump Organization wasn’t listed in the filings as income, she says, calling that proof that “everything I’ve been saying is true.”

It’s not yet clear how the company and its CFO will fight the charges. On Thursday, Jennifer Weisselberg watched her former father-in-law surrender himself for booking at the district attorney’s office from a CNN remote green room in Hudson Yards with what she described as a sense of disbelief.

“It’s still not hitting me,” she said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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