Manafort Virginia Fraud Trial: Day-by-Day Recap at a Glance
(Bloomberg) -- The trial of Paul Manafort is underway in Alexandria, Virginia, where the former chairman of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign stands accused of defrauding banks to secure loans and hiding overseas bank accounts and income from U.S. tax authorities. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team of prosecutors are struggling under tight time and evidence constraints of Judge T.S. Ellis. The trial is moving quickly and the prosecution is expected to rest before the end of Week 2. Here’s what’s happened day by day:
Prosecutors for Mueller were expected to offer their final four witnesses at the bank and tax fraud trial of Manafort on Friday, but the proceedings were delayed for a mysterious reason. Prosecutors had been expected to put on witnesses focusing on whether Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, lied to lenders when he borrowed money. Two of the witnesses were granted immunity from prosecution.
It was back to the core of the prosecutors’ case against Manafort -- the bank fraud. And jurors heard from one banker after another that Manafort lied about his income, assets and debt in order to secure loans much greater than he would’ve otherwise been eligible for. For example, Manafort asked to borrow $5 million from the Banc of California, listing his political consulting income as $4.4 million, when other witnesses testified earlier he actually made closer to $400,000. He got a $1 million loan, but banker Gary Seferian told jurors even that wouldn’t have been approved if the bank knew Manafort’s true financial picture.
Rick Gates, Manafort’s former deputy who flipped and agreed to cooperate with the Mueller probe hoping for leniency, concluded his testimony with high drama as the judge allowed him not to answer a question on cross exam about whether he’d cheated on his wife with four other women. A forensic accountant with the FBI and an IRS agent who said Manafort didn’t pay taxes on $16.5 million of income were among the prosecution witnesses questioned later. There are eight more witnesses left before the prosecution says it’ll rest.
Gates returned to the stand on Aug. 7 after a brief appearance the day before. After almost 5 hours of friendly questioning by the prosecution, Manafort’s defense team took over and began picking apart his testimony and credibility, and Gates closed the sixth day of testimony admitting he embezzled money from Manafort, in part to cover costs of a London love nest. Separately, Manafort’s former accountant who testified against him in exchange for immunity was fired by her firm.
Week 2 opened with high drama as Gates took the stand as the prosecution’s star witness, and the judge continued to scold prosecutors for not hewing as closely to the script as he’d like. In just over an hour on the stand, Gates told jurors he faked expense reports to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort. But, he said he helped hide offshore bank accounts at Manafort’s direction.
The first week culminated with the testimony of Cindy Laporta, who served as an accountant to Manafort. She told jurors that Manafort and Gates would send her documents that were clearly fake in efforts to either trim the tax bills or inflate income to secure loans from banks. She testified after prosecutors granted her immunity, and said she went along with the scam because she was worried they would sue.
On Thursday, Aug. 2, jurors heard from Heather Washkuhn, Manafort’s longtime bookkeeper, who said her boss and Rick Gates gave banks phony profit-and-loss statements to make it seem like their firm made much more money than it actually had. She also told of the firm’s struggle to pay its bills after work in Ukraine ended.
The first full day of testimony was all about luxury voyeurism, with vendors appearing one after another to tell jurors how Manafort spent millions on home renovations, entertainment systems, and custom clothing. Clothiers from Manhattan and Beverly Hills testified that Manafort would pay by wire transfer. And Judge Ellis banned the word oligarch, saying it was pejorative.
The trial got off to a fast start on Tuesday, July 31, with the jury sworn in by early afternoon and opening arguments in which the defense for the first time laid out its strategy to blame Rick Gates. The first witness -- Tad Devine, a Democratic political strategist who worked on Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign -- took the stand to tell jurors about work he did with Manafort in Ukraine.
To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Heather Smith in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org
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