(NEW YORK) — Donald Trump’s company was found guilty of tax evasion on Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which has significantly denied the former president’s financial practices at work.
The guilty verdict comes after a hearing in the second day of the debate in which the Trump Organization was accused of complicity in a plan by top executives to avoid paying personal income taxes on business benefits like rental apartments and luxury cars.
The conviction is an endorsement for the former president and New York prosecutors, who spent three years investigating his business, but the sentences are not expected to be severe enough to jeopardize the future of Trump’s company.
As punishment, the Trump Organization could be fined up to $1.6 million – a relatively small amount for a company his size, but the conviction could complicate some of its future deals.
Read more: Major Ongoing Investigations About Donald Trump
Trump, who recently announced his re-election for president, said the lawsuit against his company was part of a politically motivated “witch hunt” by vengeful Democrats against him.
Trump himself was not prosecuted, but he and the company’s lawyers have denied this, although prosecutors claim he “knows exactly what’s going on” in the plot.
The lawsuit against the company was based largely on testimony from Allen Weisselberg, the former finance chief of the Trump Organization, who previously admitted to accusations that he had manipulated the company’s books and his own compensation package to illegally reduce taxes.
Weisselberg testified in return for the promised five-month prison sentence.
To convict the Trump Organization, prosecutors had to convince jurors that Weisselberg or his subordinate, Senior Vice President and Auditor Jeffrey McConney, were “executive” agents acting on behalf of the company and that the company had benefited from his plan.
Lawyers for the Trump Organization repeated the mantra “Weisselberg did this for Weisselberg” throughout the month-long trial. They claimed that the manager acted rogue and betrayed the trust of the company. They argued that no one from the Trump family or the company could be blamed.
Although Weisselberg testified as a prosecution witness, he tried to take responsibility on the witness stand, saying that no one in the Trump family knew what he was doing.
“It was my personal greed that caused this,” testified an emotional Weisselberg.
Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty to evasion of $1.7 million in benefits, said he and McConney conspired to hide this extra compensation from his income by deducting the costs from his pre-tax salary and issuing fake W-2 forms.
During the closing debate, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass tried to refute Trump’s claim that he knew nothing about the plan. He showed the jurors a lease that Trump had signed for Weisselberg’s company-paid flat, and a Trump-initialed memo that allowed cuts in the salary of another executive who received bonuses.
“Mr. Steinglass argued that Trump is openly sanctioning tax fraud.
The decision doesn’t end Trump’s battle with Democratic Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who took office in January.
Bragg spoke about Trump with his predecessor, District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. He said a relevant investigation initiated by the agency was “active and ongoing”.
In this far-reaching investigation, investigators examined whether Trump misled banks and others about the value of their real estate, golf courses, and other assets—the allegations at the center of New York Attorney General Letitia James’ pending lawsuit against the former president and her company.
The district attorney’s office also investigated whether any state laws were violated when Trump’s allies paid two women who claimed to have had sex with the Republican years ago.
Toward the end of his term last year, Vance directed lawmakers to present evidence to the grand jury for a possible impeachment against Trump. After taking office, however, Bragg allowed the grand jury to disperse so he could get a fresh perspective on the case.
On Monday, he confirmed that a new attorney general has been appointed to lead this investigation, signaling once again that the investigation is still active.
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