Trump Organization Case Rescues Outgoing D.A.’s Mixed Legacy
(Bloomberg) -- Cyrus Vance Jr. is going out with a bang, after an almost 12-year career as Manhattan’s powerful but staid district attorney that was marked by some early stumbles.
With just six months left in office, Vance on Thursday brought the most consequential indictment of his career, filing charges against the Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg.
That all but ensures that Vance, 67, will be remembered for bringing an unprecedented criminal case against former President Donald Trump’s company, though it will fall to his successor -- most likely former federal prosecutor Alvin Bragg -- to see it through.
It’s Vance’s “crowning achievement,” said Bennett Gershman, a law professor at Pace University in White Plains, New York. “The case involves a huge undertaking by his office, in terms of resources and time, and it took quite a measure of courage to bring these charges.”
Such praise could help gloss over some of Vance’s missteps in prior prosecutions and investigations involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein and even two of Trump’s grown children.
The Trump probe brought Vance acclaim even before a grand jury returned the indictment. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Vance access to Trump’s tax returns. And last year Vance’s office won a landmark high court ruling that presidents aren’t immune from state criminal investigations.
Vance’s spokeswoman, Danny Frost, declined to comment.
Vance is leaving office after three terms. A New York native, he successfully tackled street crime, reopened cold cases and targeted cyber-fraud in his early years in office. And he conducted successful investigations into 11 of the world’s biggest banks, ultimately directing hundreds of millions of dollars in forfeited proceeds to community organizations, according to his website.
But he had less success in other criminal matters.
In one of Vance’s highest-profile prosecutions, the district attorney in 2011 dropped sexual-assault charges against Strauss-Kahn, then the International Monetary Fund chief, after finding inconsistencies in his accuser’s account.
There were other stumbles. One of Vance’s prosecutors in 2011 unsuccessfully tried to have Epstein classified at the lowest level of sex-offender, misreading the threat Epstein posed and leaving it to a judge to rule the money manager deserved to be at a higher level. Vance was also criticized in 2012 for deciding not to prosecute Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. for potentially misleading investors about the financial details of the onetime Trump Soho building, and again in 2015 for initially failing to pursue a case against movie mogul Weinstein.
Last year, however, the producer was convicted of sexual assault and rape and sentenced to 23 years in prison in a case brought by Vance, after the extent of Weinstein’s wrongdoing was exposed by his victims.
Trump’s company and Weisselberg are accused of scheming for 15 years to mask part of the CFO’s compensation to avoid taxes. The charges include tax fraud, scheme to defraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records. Weisselberg, 73, also faces a grand larceny charge that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.
“This is his legacy,” said John Coffee, a law professor at Columbia University. “In 50 years, no one will remember Epstein and all will know Trump and whoever brought him down.”
A conviction will bring Vance closer to matching the achievements of his predecessor, Robert Morgenthau, who in one case sent the chief executive of Tyco International Ltd. to prison for looting the company.
”If it doesn’t succeed, there will be repercussions,” Gershman said. “People will look back and say it was too hasty and he was irresponsible, but frankly I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think this is just the beginning of further investigations and possibly more changes.”
Trump Organization lawyer Ronald Fischetti said there’s no prospect for a conviction. He mocked the case as weak and described events as “sad.”
“In my 50 years of practice, I have never seen this office bring a case like this and, quite frankly, I am astonished,” Fischetti said in an emailed statement. “The district attorney is supposed to be apolitical, but everyone knows that the only reason they are proceeding with this case is because it is Trump.”
“As far as we are concerned, this case is over,” he added.
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