Manafort Asks for Leniency in Virginia Tax-Crimes Sentence

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – Less than a week before he is sentenced for multiple financial fraud charges, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort told a federal judge in Virginia that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s recommendation he spend up to 24 years in prison is “clearly disproportionate” to the crimes.  

Paul Manafort walks with this wife, Kathleen Manafort, as they arrive at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va., on March 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

In a 41-page memo Friday, Manafort’s attorneys asked U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III to “impose a sentence significantly below the advisory guidelines” when he decides Manafort’s punishment March 7.

Manafort was convicted last August in the Eastern District of Virginia on eight bank and tax fraud charges connected to his political lobbying in Ukraine. The jury deadlocked on 10 other counts.

Mueller’s office has recommended that Manafort receive a sentence of 19 to 24 ½ years in prison, per federal sentencing guidelines.

Manafort’s Friday filing mirrors one he filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Monday claiming Mueller unfairly “vilified” him in a Feb. 16 sentencing memo.  

“The special counsel’s conduct comes as no surprise, and falls within the government’s pattern of spreading misinformation about Mr. Manafort to impugn his character in a manner this country has not experienced in decades,” defense attorney Kevin Downing wrote in Friday’s memo.

Downing argued that a less stringent sentence is reasonable given Manafort’s age, diminishing health and the nine months he has already spent in solitary confinement.  

The former lobbyist’s agreement to “forfeit the vast majority of his assets accumulated over a lifetime of work” should also persuade Judge Ellis to sentence him lightly, the memo states. 

After he was charged in Virginia for bank fraud associated with Citizen’s Bank, Banc of California and The Federal Savings Bank, the court determined Manafort should be held accountable for just over $6 million in fraud-related losses.  

But Downing wrote no evidence was introduced during his trial in Virginia that proved he ever intentionally sought to harm the bank.

“With the exception of one unsecured loan where no collateral was requested, all of the loans were collateralized. More importantly, all of the loans were performing up to the time that Mr. Manafort was indicted in this case,” the memo states.

Downing also downplayed the nature of Manafort’s fraud, saying that he and his former associate Rick Gates’ interactions with mortgage lenders were “nothing complex.”

“With regard to falsified documents, the offense conduct was far from sophisticated. In fact, the evidence at trial demonstrated that Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates simply altered Microsoft Word documents to reflect incorrect income information, or they provided the banks with outdated or fabricated information,” the memo states.

Though a specific length of sentence was not offered by Manafort, similar offshore bank and tax fraud cases have seen sentences topping out at roughly four to five years, Downing noted, listing more than a dozen precedents.

Six days after he is sentenced in Virginia, Manafort will be sentenced a second time on March 13 in Washington, D.C., in connection to his guilty plea there in November to conspiracy charges. 

Mueller, who for nearly two years now has been probing Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and whether the Trump campaign coordinated with that effort, has accused Manafort of lying about his communication with alleged Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, D.C., issued a brief order Friday stating that a recent redacted piece of information provided to the Special Counsel’s Office by Gates failed to change her conclusion that Manafort lied to prosecutors during the course of his plea negotiations.

Though it is unclear exactly what information Gates came forward with, it pertained to the nature of Manafort’s discussions with Kilimnik.

Kilimnik has steadfastly denied allegations that he is tied to Russian intelligence.

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