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Jury Convicts Manafort on Eight Counts of Tax Fraud, Lengthy Jail Time Expected


Added on 22/08/2018

(Haaretz) -- Paul Manafort, the manager of President Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, was found guilty of eight counts of tax fraud and other offenses on Tuesday by a jury in the state of Virginia. Manafort ran Trump's campaign during the final stages of the Republican primary and helped secure his acceptance of the presidential nomination during the 2016 Republican party convention.

Manafort was facing 18 different charges. The jury decided unanimously that he is guilty in eight of those charges, but could not reach a decision on ten of the others. This means that Manafort is very likely to spend significant time in jail, but also that a second trial could take place regarding the ten counts on which the jury could not reach a unanimous decision.

Manafort was found guilty of five tax fraud charges, one charge of hiding a foreign bank account and two counts of bank fraud. He is also expected to face a separate court trial in Washington, on other charges that were not handled during the Virginia trial.

In addition to years of prison for Manafort, the ruling also establishes the possibility of special counsel Robert Mueller's team to persuade a jury of average citizens despite months of partisan attacks — including from Trump — on the investigation's integrity.

In response to the charges Trump said, "I feel very badly for Paul Manafort. It has nothing to do with me. Nothing to do with Russia collusion."

The verdict raises immediate questions of whether the president would seek to pardon Manafort, the lone American charged by Mueller, to opt for trial instead of cooperation. The president has not revealed his thinking but spoke sympathetically throughout the trial of his onetime aide and at one point suggested that he had been treated worse than famed gangster Al Capone.

The more than two-week trial, presided over by the colorful and impatient U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, has captured Trump's attention as he works to undermine Mueller's investigation through a constant Twitter barrage and increasingly antagonistic statements from his lawyer-spokesman, Rudy Giuliani.

But Trump and his campaign were only a small part of Manafort's trial as jurors instead heard days of testimony about Manafort's finances and what prosecutors say was a years-long tax-evasion and fraud scheme.

Manafort decided not to call on any witnesses or testify against himself in the trial. His attorneys said he made the decision because he didn't believe the government had met its burden of proof.

Manafort's defense team has attempted to make the case about the credibility of longtime Manafort protege, Rick Gates, who served as the government's star witness. They have attacked him as a liar, embezzler and instigator of any crimes as they try to persuade jurors that Manafort didn't willfully violate the law.

For the prosecution, Gates was the star witness, spending three days before the jury, telling them how he committed crimes alongside Manafort for years. Gates admitted to doctoring documents, falsifying information and creating fake loans to lower his former boss' tax bill. He also admitted to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars without Manafort's knowledge by filing fake expense reports.

But the government's case wasn't all about Gates. Prosecutors spent two weeks presenting a meticulous, document-based case before the jury as they sought to prove Manafort used offshore bank accounts to conceal millions of dollars in proceeds from his Ukrainian political consulting from the IRS and later turned to defrauding banks.

Overall, prosecutors said Manafort avoided paying more than $16 million in taxes over several years.

They called carpenters, landscapers and clothiers to attest to how Manafort paid for his lavish lifestyle of expensive suits and elaborate properties through offshore wire transfers from shell companies in Cyprus and elsewhere. They also brought in bankers and accountants to tell jurors how, when Manafort's foreign consulting income dropped off, he turned to obtaining millions of dollars more in bank loans under false pretenses.

And perhaps most importantly, the government read from Manafort's personal email account as they laid out their case, including messages where he personally directed withdrawals from the offshore accounts which were never reported on his tax returns.

Some of the other emails admitted into evidence in the case revealed Manafort's lobbying of Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner on behalf of Stephen Calk, the chairman of Federal Savings Bank. Prosecutors say Calk approved $16 million in loans for Manafort — despite several red flags — because Calk wanted a job in the Trump administration.

The emails showed Manafort urging Kushner to consider Calk for Secretary of the Army, a position Calk had put at the top of his list in an earlier email to Manafort, in the weeks after the 2016 elections. Calk also listed seven other senior domestic appointments and 18 ambassadorships — ranked in order of preference — that he would accept.

Kushner responded to Manafort's email by saying, "On it!" But Calk ultimately did not get an administration post.

The trial in Alexandria, Virginia, is the first of two for Manafort. He faces a trial later this year in the District of Columbia on charges of conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, false statements and acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Ukrainian interests. He is also accused of witness tampering.