Manafort caught sentencing break for tax and bank fraud, but soon faces tougher judge
Credit: Accounting Today
Paul Manafort won leniency Thursday from a federal judge who sent him to prison for less than four years, but next week he’ll be sentenced in a second case by a less forgiving judge who could add another 10 years to his term.
Manafort, 69, faced as long as 24 years in prison after jurors in Alexandria, Virginia, convicted him last year of hiding $55 million in offshore accounts, failing to pay $6 million in taxes, and defrauding banks. But U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said Thursday that a quarter-century behind bars was too extreme and sentenced Manafort to 47 months.
Next, Manafort will be sentenced on March 13 by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, where he pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges and pledged to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
It was Jackson who sent Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, to jail on June 15 after prosecutors accused him of tampering with witnesses. She also ruled last month that he breached his plea deal by lying to prosecutors. Jackson could add to the sentence that Ellis imposed. She could also make some or all of it run at the same time.
Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor, said Ellis may have assumed that Jackson will impose “significant additional time.”
“That was in part why he went relatively easy on Paul Manafort,” Rossi said. “Being sentenced to four years in prison is nothing to sneeze at if he’s going to get additional time in D.C. At the end of the day, he’ll serve about seven years in prison.”
Jackson will punish Manafort for conspiring to secretly lobby the U.S. on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian regime and for plotting with a Russian associate to tamper with witnesses.
In handing down his sentence, Ellis said that Manafort committed serious crimes but that his sentence should be comparable to others involving similar tax offenses.
“The government cannot sweep away the history of all these previous sentences,” Ellis said. “It’s not a mathematical calculation, it is a judgment.”
Manafort will get credit for the nine months he’s already served, and he could get his sentence reduced slightly if he behaves in prison. The judge ordered Manafort to pay restitution of $25 million and fined him $50,000.
The sentence set off outrage among the president’s critics, who said it was too lenient for a man who failed to pay many millions in taxes. But in court, Ellis said it was sufficiently punitive.
“If anybody in this courtroom doesn’t think so, go and spend a day in the jail or penitentiary of the federal government,” Ellis said. “Spend a week there. He has to spend 47 months, but he will receive credit for the time already served.”
Manafort, who has been in solitary confinement since June, appeared in court in a wheelchair and wore a green jumpsuit that said “Alexandria Inmate.” He stood to make a statement, but Ellis told him he could remain seated because he was in obvious discomfort.
“To say that I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement,” Manafort told the judge. “I could tell you that I feel the punishment from these proceedings already and know that it was my conduct that brought me here.”
Manafort said that nine months of solitary confinement after seven months of home arrest had affected his physical and mental health.
“My life professionally and financially is in shambles, and I feel the pain and shame of these factors,” he said.
Manafort suffers from gout, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a potential thyroid problem, anxiety and claustrophobia.
The judge chastised Manafort for not expressing remorse about his crimes but credited him for living “an otherwise blameless life.”
Manafort may face more legal trouble even after next week’s sentencing. State prosecutors in New York are said to be preparing a separate set of charges, which could expose Manafort to even more prison time.
Manafort’s downfall came at the hands of Mueller, who depicted him as a serial liar bent on defrauding tax authorities and banks while concealing his political consulting for pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine. Mueller is investigating whether Trump’s campaign conspired with Russians who interfered with the 2016 election.
As he had during the trial, Ellis made a clear distinction between Manafort’s crimes and the Russia investigation. “He’s not before the court for anything having to do with colluding with the Russian government to influence this election,” Ellis said.
Manafort’s lawyers said Mueller singled him out because he worked for Trump. And they said Manafort’s work for former President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine wasn’t on behalf of a Kremlin-aligned politician, as Mueller contends, but rather an effort to steer Ukraine toward the U.S.-friendly European Union.
Yanukovych fled to Moscow after protests in 2014. Low on cash, Manafort tried to leverage properties in New York, Florida and Virginia as he lied to banks to secure loans.
After his jury conviction in Alexandria, Manafort avoided a trial in Washington by pleading guilty and agreeing to cooperate with Mueller. But prosecutors said he repeatedly lied to them in debriefings while failing to come clean about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime associate allegedly tied to Russian intelligence.
At the hearing on Thursday, prosecutor Greg Andres said Manafort lied during debriefings over 50 hours.
“There were a wide range of issues that he was asked about and he did not provide valuable cooperation,” Andres said. “He told us 50 hours, a large part of things we already knew or was included in documents. It wasn’t 50 hours of information that we didn’t know and it certainly wasn’t 50 hours of information that was useful.”
In Washington, Jackson ruled previously that Manafort deliberately lied about his contacts with Kilimnik, calling it an “attempt to shield his Russian conspirator from liability” and saying it raised “legitimate questions about where his loyalties lie.”
Prosecutors said that during the 2016 campaign, Manafort shared Trump polling data with Kilimnik, and they discussed a peace plan to resolve sanctions imposed on Russia after it annexed Ukraine. Mueller also appeared to examine whether Manafort and Kilimnik possibly were a back channel for communications between Russia and Trump, but neither man was accused of that.
Mueller also investigated whether Manafort sought a presidential pardon from Trump — a possibility that still exists.
After sentencing on Thursday, Manafort’s lawyers stressed that he never colluded with Russia, a point picked up by the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Democrat Adam Schiff, who called it a deliberate appeal for a pardon.
On Friday, Trump took the point one step further, tweeting that “the Judge and the lawyer in the Paul Manafort case stated loudly and for the world to hear that there was NO COLLUSION with Russia.”
In his Virginia trial, prosecutors cast Manafort as a globe-trotting, cash-hungry villain. Jurors heard how Manafort used wire transfers from offshore accounts to pay for houses, cars, clothes and rugs. He also financed improvements to homes in the Hamptons and Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
A skilled political strategist, Manafort advised Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Trump, all Republicans. As an international lobbyist, he reaped millions of dollars by working for strongmen like Jonas Savimbi in Angola, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire.
He made more than $60 million in Ukraine from 2010 to 2014, and his efforts were largely funded by Ukrainian oligarchs, prosecutors said. He also worked for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
In court filings, Manafort’s lawyers called him a generous and supportive friend and family man, despite his crimes of deception.
Ellis recommended that Manafort serve his time at the federal prison camp in Cumberland, Maryland.
The Virginia case is U.S. v. Manafort, 18-cr-83, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria). The Washington case is U.S. v. Manafort, 17-cr-201, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).