Manafort Faces Decades in Prison at Virginia Sentencing

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – Once a renowned lobbyist and associate of some of the world’s most powerful people, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s dazzling fall from an elite political world of spin and strategy ends Thursday when he is sentenced by a federal judge to what could effectively be life in prison for a bevy of financial 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)

Manafort, 69, faces up to 24 years in prison when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III. During his trial last August, spread over 12 rigorous days, prosecutors unfurled a complex web of fraud he coordinated in multiple countries with the help of his business associate, Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty to charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and testified against Manafort as the star witness.

Accused of failing to report roughly $16.5 million in income from his political lobbying work on behalf of Ukraine and its onetime President Viktor Yanukovych, the jury in Virginia found Manafort guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud after four days of deliberations.

To stave off a second trial in Washington D.C., last September, Manafort pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States – a charge that covered his various money laundering schemes, his failure to file foreign bank account reports and his failure to register as a foreign agent.

He also copped to conspiracy to obstruct justice in the Washington case after prosecutors discovered he tampered with witnesses while out on bail. According to prosecutors, Manafort and a longtime associate with reported ties to Russian intelligence, Konstantin Kilimnik, contacted members of a public relations firm and asked them to falsify their testimony in court about covert lobbying directed by Manafort.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington ordered Manafort incarcerated after the revelation, telling him she was concerned the longtime strategist was treating his court proceedings “as another marketing exercise.”

Ultimately, Manafort also pleaded guilty to 10 counts leftover from the Virginia trial in a bid to secure a plea deal with prosecutors in D.C., but the deal collapsed after it was discovered Manafort lied to the special counsel during a series of interviews with investigators.

All told, prosecutors accused Manafort of hiding more than $55 million in foreign bank accounts and racking up $25 million through bogus loans.

Manafort’s case was the first and so far only trial for charges brought by Mueller’s office in his sweeping probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Though none of the charges Manafort faced in Virginia directly involved any of his work on President Donald Trump’s campaign, Mueller’s underlying task – to unearth American activity connected to Russian meddling in the election – placed the spotlight firmly on the president’s onetime campaign chairman.  

During his trial, pews overflowed inside of the federal courthouse, at times with only standing room available, forcing court security officers to shepherd dozens of reporters and spectators alike into an overflow room where Manafort could only be glimpsed from grainy closed-circuit video.

Manafort will go before Judge Ellis on Thursday afternoon for his sentencing.

Federal sentencing guidelines in the Virginia case suggest Manafort should serve 19 to 24 years in prison but Judge Ellis can impose any sentence he sees fit – including one well below the guidelines. Mueller has recommended Manafort be sentenced in the upper range of the guidelines.

Next week, Manafort also faces sentencing in Washington, D.C. where he faces up to 10 years in prison. At that point, it will be up to Judge Jackson to decide whether he will serve his time concurrently or consecutively.

At nearly 70 years old – his birthday is April 1 – Manafort has asked for leniency in both venues, citing his age, diminishing health and the first-time nature of his offenses.

Mueller “vilified” him and unfairly painted him as an “irredeemable felon,” his defense attorneys wrote in a March 1. Further, they argued, Mueller impugned Manafort’s character and “grossly overstated” the facts of the case.

But on Tuesday, in their reply to Manafort’s request for leniency, special counsel prosecutors offered a preview of the position they will hold in front of Judge Ellis: Manafort’s crimes were complex, international schemes that defrauded taxpayers by the millions, and his failure to cooperate and his repeated lies – even after striking a plea deal – proves Manafort lacks remorse and refuses to take responsibility for his crimes.

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