New York judge says he will bar selective prosecution claim in Trump Organization criminal trial

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A Manhattan judge indicated Monday he won’t allow attorneys for the Trump Organization to accuse Manhattan prosecutors of targeting the company out of animus for former President Donald Trump.

New York County Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan said at an at-times testy hearing, six weeks before the company’s Oct. 24 fraud and tax evasion trial is scheduled to begin, that he expects arguments and evidence to focus on the charges.

“I will not allow you in any way to bring up a selective prosecution claim, or claim this is some sort of novel prosecution,” Merchan said, later adding that he “will have very little patience at trial any questions that are not in a good faith basis.”

An attorney for the Trump Organization said earlier during the hearing that she thinks that’s why prosecutors investigated the company’s former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg. The executive who spent decades by Trump’s side at the company entered a guilty plea in the case on Aug. 18,  acknowledging that he was part of a scheme to receive more than $1.7 million in off-the-books perks and compensation.

“I believe that Mr. Weisselberg believes he was targeted because of his association with Mr. Trump,” said the attorney, Susan Necheles.

The company and Weisselberg were charged in July 2021 with more than a dozen counts of fraud and tax evasion. Weisselberg’s guilty plea set off a series of fraught exchanges between defense attorneys and prosecutors about deadlines related to declaring which experts and evidence will be usable at trial.

Those issues spilled into the courtroom Monday in a series of heated exchanges between Trump Organization attorneys, prosecutors and Merchan.

Necheles said Weisselberg’s admission of guilt changed the calculus for for the company’s defense, leading her to withdraw a previous notice sent to prosecutors about the experts the defense intends to call.

“We are now restructuring our defense and we are determining what experts we will be calling, and we may have to call a new expert,” Necheles said.

An assistant district attorney accused the company of trying to delay the trial, which is scheduled to begin Oct. 24, “into November.”

Merchan, who appeared miffed about Trump Organization attorneys asking for extra time to file certain motions, doubled down on the Oct. 24 start date.

“One of the accusations is that the defense is trying to stall, you know, it’s starting to feel that way a little bit,” Merchan said.

Merchan gave both sides one week to file new motions and responses. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 28.

Outside the courtroom, Necheles told reporters that while Weisselberg has admitted guilt, he only named one other executive as having allegedly participated in the scheme.

“If no one else at the company knew about his individual wrongdoing, what kind of case is this?” Necheles asked.

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