Manafort Gets Almost 4 Years for Fraud After Facing 24-Year Term
(Bloomberg) -- Paul Manafort, who helped define Washington’s modern lobbying culture and advised four U.S. presidents, was sentenced to almost four years in prison for hiding millions of dollars offshore to support a glittering lifestyle that included six homes, custom suits and a $15,000 ostrich jacket.
Manafort, 69, faced the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison, but got a break Thursday from a federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia, who called an advisory range of 19 years to 24 1/2 years excessive.
Manafort’s sentence could still get worse. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman faces as long as another decade in prison when he’s sentenced March 13 in Washington for conspiracy counts related to a secret lobbying campaign on behalf of Ukraine and for joining a Russian associate in tampering with witnesses.
In handing down the sentence of three years, 11 months, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said that Manafort committed serious crimes, including hiding $55 million in offshore accounts and failing to pay $6 million in taxes. But he said his sentence should be comparable to others that involved the stashing of money abroad.
“The government cannot sweep away the history of all these other sentences,” Ellis said. “It’s not a mathematical calculation, it is a judgment.”
Ellis said Manafort would get credit for the nine months he’s already served, meaning his term would be up in three years and two months. And he could be released sooner with good behavior. The judge ordered Manafort to pay restitution of $25 million and fined him $50,000.
The sentence sparked 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 stand a day in a federal penitentiary or a jail,” he said.
Manafort, who has been in solitary confinement since June, appeared in court in a wheelchair, wearing 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 know it was my conduct that brought me here.”
The downfall of Manafort came at the hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who depicted him as a serial liar who defrauded 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 referred several times to the Russia investigation, but said that wasn’t the purpose of Manafort’s sentencing.
“He’s not before the court with 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 conviction in Alexandria, Manafort averted 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, prosecutor Greg Andres said that Manafort “did not provide valuable cooperation,” and most of the information he gave Mueller’s investigators was already known to them.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington ruled 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 formally accused of that.
Mueller also investigated whether Manafort sought a pardon from Trump -- a possibility that still exists.
Manafort’s lawyers stressed that 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.
In his Virginia trial, prosecutors cast Manafort as a globe-trotting, cash-hungry villain bent on skirting the law. Jurors heard how Manafort used wire transfers from offshore accounts to pay for houses, cars, clothes and rugs. Manafort spent on custom clothes from Alan Couture in New York and the House of Bijan in Beverly Hills, as well as improvements to homes in the Hamptons and Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
Manafort was considered a gifted political strategist who advised Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Trump, all of them Republicans. As an international political 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, who later sued Manafort and his right-hand man, Rick Gates, claiming they defrauded him on a business transaction.
In court filings, Manafort’s lawyers said he’s a generous and supportive friend and family man, despite his crimes of deception. They said he helped nurse his wife Kathy back from a traumatic brain injury suffered in a horse accident in 1998.
Manafort has gout, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a potential thyroid problem, his lawyers say. He also suffers from anxiety, panic attacks and claustrophobia, they say. Prosecutors said the Bureau of Prisons can handle all of those problems.
Ellis recommended that Manafort serve his time at the federal prison camp in Cumberland, Maryland.
The case is U.S. v. Manafort, 18-cr-83, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria). The other case is U.S. v. Manafort, 17-cr-201, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
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