A Philadelphia-based attorney known for representing former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial has joined the defense team in a criminal case against the Trump Organization headed up by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
Michael van der Veen will defend the organization in the case. The firm announced van der Veen’s participation in a post to its website over the weekend, saying that the Trump Organization has filed an entry of his appearance in the case. Van der Veen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prosecutors allege the company participated in a 15-year tax fraud scheme. The scheme allowed the organization’s executives to avoid paying federal, state, and city taxes on unreported income, the Manhattan DA’s Office said in an August news release.
The case is expected to go to trial next month. Here is what you need to know:
Van der Veen is a local attorney and founder of the van der Veen, Hartshorn, and Levin law firm, which has its Philadelphia office at 12th and Spruce Streets in Center City. But he is perhaps best known as the defense attorney in Trump’s second impeachment trial back in February.
In that proceeding, van der Veen led Trump’s legal team, successfully defending the former president against the accusation that he encouraged his supporters to attack the US Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021. The Senate voted 57-43 to convict Trump, falling short of the required 67 votes needed.
Van der Veen and fellow local attorneys Bruce L. Castor Jr. and William J. Brennan have continued to work with the Trump Organization in various capacities since the impeachment trial. When reached by phone, Brennan confirmed he is also working on the case. Castor’s role remains unclear.
Van der Veen made headlines in the case nationally, but particularly in Philadelphia for a courtroom gaffe in which he mispronounced the city’s name. In that incident, he argued that deposits shouldn’t be done over Zoom, but rather “in my office in Philly-delphia.” The suggestion that he would depose roughly 100 people in his office drew laughter from senators in the room, and went viral online.
“I don’t know how many civil lawyers are here, but that’s the way it works folks,” he said at the time. “I don’t know why you’re laughing. It is a civil process. That is the way lawyers do it.”
Van der Veen also faced harassment over his role in the case. During the impeachment proceedings, vandals broke windows and spray-painted the word “traitor” on the driveway of his suburban Philadelphia home. Demonstrators also protested outside his firm’s Center City office.
Prosecutors allege that the Trump Organization and its senior executives jointly engaged in tax fraud over 15 years by underreporting their income and accepting perks that didn’t appear on tax documents, the New York Times reports. As a result, the Manhattan DA’s Office says, the organization defrauded federal, state, and city authorities.
Van der Veen’s involvement in the trial comes following a guilty plea from Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg last month. Weisselberg pleaded guilty to 15 charges related to the scheme, and admitted to evading taxes on $1.76 million worth of unreported income. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a release that Weisselberg’s plea agreement “directly implicates the Trump Organization in a wide range of criminal activity” in the case.
The Manhattan DA’s Office added that Weisselberg admitted the alleged tax fraud scheme involved the organization with holding income taxes on wages, salaries, and bonuses for himself and other employees. As a result, the Trump Organization was allegedly able to “evade the payment of payroll taxes the company was required to pay in connection with employee compensation.”
Weisselberg, Bragg said, will “provide invaluable testimony in the upcoming trial against the corporation,” and has received a five-month jail sentence and five years’ probation, in addition to a $1.9 million repayment of taxes, penalties, and interest related to the case.
Trump has not been charged in the case, the Times reports. According to Reutersthe Trump Organization, which has pleaded not guilty, could face fines and other penalties if it is convicted in the case.
The case is currently expected to go to trial Oct. 24.
Days before van der Veen joined the case, New York State Attorney General Letitia James filed civil lawsuits against Trump, the Trump Organization, and three of his children. That case alleges decades of “large-scale fraudulent financial practices,” and seeks $250 million in profits and a five-year ban on real-estate transactions, Politico reports.
Van der Veen criticized James in a statement, saying she is undertaking a “blatant attempt to poison the jury pool” in the criminal case by announcing the civil proceedings now.
“These criminal and civil prosecutions are an attack on not just the Trump Organization but American business itself,” van der Veen said. “Every family business and every mom-and-pop shop — the backbone of our economy and our country — should understand that progressive prosecutors are weaponizing record-keeping laws as a means to achieve the ends of the redistribution of wealth by assessing enormous and grossly disproportionate corporate fines, fees and penalties. My client is innocent, and we look forward to defending his innocence in court.”