The Trump Organization controlled employees by giving them houses and paying for their kids’ tuition instead of giving raises, the ex-wife of a key employee says

Donald trump tower elevator
Donald Trump at Trump Tower on January 16, 2017. DOMINICK REUTER/AFP via Getty Images
  • The Trump Org used financial arrangements to control employees, a Trump investigation witness said.
  • It paid for apartments and tuition instead of normal salary raises, Jennifer Weisselberg said.
  • The Manhattan DA’s office hired investigators who have experience studying mob finances.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The former wife of a key Trump Organization employee scrutinized by prosecutors said the company held sway over employees through unusual financial arrangements, including paying for her home and tuition for her children.

“They want you to do crimes and not talk about it and don’t leave,” Jennifer Weisselberg said in an interview with Insider. “It’s so controlling.”

Weisselberg is a cooperating witness in investigations into former President Donald Trump’s finances. Between 2004 and 2018, she was married to Barry Weisselberg, the son of Allen Weisselberg, Trump’s longtime chief financial officer. Barry Weisselberg is a significant employee of the company in his own right as the manager of the Trump Organization-operated Wollman Rink in New York’s Central Park.

Jennifer Weisselberg said she handed over “seven boxes” of documents that came out of her divorce proceedings to prosecutors. Prosecutors in both the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the New York attorney general’s office are investigating the finances of Trump and the Trump Organization. The Manhattan DA’s office is analyzing whether they violated tax laws by distorting financial information to receive favorable loan terms and pay little in taxes.

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The office successfully subpoenaed millions of pages of tax documents from the Trump Organization in February. Prosecutors there are now seeking to “flip” Allen Weisselberg into guiding them through those pages, The Washington Post reported.

Jennifer Weisselberg said the company retained a grip on key employees by withholding raises. In yearly compensation meetings with Barry Weisselberg, she said, Trump or Allen Weisselberg would offer to pay the tuition of their children instead of giving them raises. She said her ex-husband’s base salary hadn’t change substantially in the roughly 20 years he’s worked there.

“It was like Allen designing a plan,” she said. “It was like, ‘OK, the way we’re going to maestro this is instead of a raise, we’re going to pay my daughter’s tuition. Instead of a raise, we’re going to pay for the apartment.'”

‘If you want to leave, where are you going to live?’

Donald and Melania Trump gave Jennifer and Barry Weisselberg an apartment in their Trump Parc East building by Central Park in Manhattan as a wedding gift, Bloomberg News first reported.

The couple paid only $US400 ($525) a month in utilities and other fees – far below the market rate for rent, Jennifer Weisselberg told the outlet. Prosecutors are examining whether the way the arrangement was reported in tax documents violated tax laws, according to Bloomberg News.

These arrangements, while appearing generous on the surface, served as a way to keep Trump Organization employees in line, Jennifer Weisselberg told Insider.

“Obviously, it’s not a gift when you get the same salary for 20 years,” she said.

“It’s so controlling,” she added. “Because if you want to leave and make the same money – you live there. If you want to leave, where are you going to live?”

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Trump at his desk in Trump Tower. Susan Watts/NY Daily News via Getty Images

Since Allen Weisselberg handled the finances for both the Trump Organization and her family, gifts like that also served as a way to avoid paying taxes, Jennifer Weisselberg said.

“That’s the compensation. They just pay for everything, instead of paying on the books,” she said. “It was a way Allen decided to maestro things to benefit Donald or to avoid employee taxes, state taxes, gift taxes. I mean, if you want to get compensated and thank Donald – great. But you got to pay taxes on it.”

In February, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. hired Mark Pomerantz, a well-regarded white-collar attorney with experience investigating mob organizations, to join the team looking into the Trump Organization. Jennifer Weisselberg has spoken with Pomerantz several times since, she said. The office also sent a forensic accountant with experience analyzing mob finances to look at her documents, she added.

Representatives for the Trump Organization and Barry Weisselberg didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment for this story. Representatives for Allen Weisselberg, the Manhattan DA’s office, and the New York attorney general’s office declined to comment.