Twitter went into a frenzy after the former chief financial officer of Donald Trump’s organization was sentenced to five months Tuesday for tax evasion fraud.
The sentence came after Allen Weisselberg pleaded guilty to 15 felony counts of tax fraud in August 2021 in relation to Trump’s businesses. Prosecutors called it a “systematic” scheme to defraud state and federal tax authorities dating back 15 years.”
Weisselberg was offered a plea deal to testify against Trump and agreed to pay $2 million in tax penalties in exchange for a lighter sentence.
Under New York state law, criminal tax fraud crimes could lead to three to 20 years in prison.
After the sentencing, reactions from Twitter drew comparisons to the Kalief Browder case.
“Trump Org CFO Weisselberg is being sentenced to 5 months jail for massive tax fraud, of which he’ll serve ~100 days on Rikers,” said Twitter user and human rights lawyer Qasim Rashid. “Kalief Browder suffered in Rikers for 700 days in solitary confinement on the false accusation he stole a backpack, then died by suicide. Two Americas.”
Another Twitter user Sports Genius pointed out how light Weisselberg’s sentence was compared to other notable people arrested for tax fraud.
“Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino did 8 months for tax fraud. How is this guy getting out in 100 days?”
In 2010, Browder, a 16-year-old black male, was accused of stealing a backpack and charged as an adult. While awaiting trial, Browder was sent to Rikers Island because his family couldn’t afford to post the $3,000 bail. Browder would spend three years in Rikers, with two of those years spent in solitary confinement.
Two years after his release, he committed suicide in his parent’s home at the age of 22. He was never tried or convicted of a crime.
“Society denies Black people the benefit of the doubt while giving convicted white people leniency. Kalief Browder’s suicide shows how deadly that is,” wrote Karyn Lacy, an associate professor of sociology and African American studies at the University of Michigan in a recent USA Today opinion piece.
How Do the Two Cases Compare?
Browder’s case is centered around a false accusation and financial hardship. The teen’s family did not have enough money to bail him out, so he sat in jail for years.
Weisselberg’s case falls under a white-collar crime that typically holds a lighter sentence. Twitter users illuminated both the classism and racism in a broken justice system designed to keep poor people behind bars longer than their wealthier counterparts.
Weisselberg will serve just 150 days in Rikers and has a chance to get released early on good behavior. While Browder had to spend over 700 days behind bars, where he was subjected to mistreatment, bad conditions, and physical abuse that caused serious mental health issues, which many believe led to his suicide.
Browder was 16 years old and without any resources or political connections that could have at least helped him get out of Rikers while awaiting trial.
Weisselberg is a 75-year-old white male connected to one of the most powerful men in America and was offered a plea deal for crimes dating back 15 years.
In January 2020, New York state passed sweeping criminal justice legislation, strictly curtailing the use of cash bail and pretrial detention, overhauling rules governing the sharing of evidence, and strengthening measures intended to ensure a defendant’s right to a speedy trial.
This reform came 10 years after Browder’s death. Had he been afforded this opportunity, the mental trauma he experienced while incarcerated for three years could have been eliminated.
Not all Twitter responses to Rashid’s post were against a longer sentence for the former CFO.
However, those who responded overwhelmingly agreed Weisselberg deserved a longer sentence, and there is a different set of rules when you have money and are a white male in America.
“It is important to note that Kalief Browder was underage, was never tried, and the allegations were never sound,” wrote Twitter user @1ChicagoHopeful. “Yet he was in prison all that time. If you are wealthy, a celebrity, or have the right connections, you live in a completely different country w/ your own justice system.”
“In the US, the more money and the more influence you have with the political system, they will spare you because they have use for you,” Twitter user Kaho Tsang wrote. “If you are poor, you can die for all they care because they are expendable.”