Manafort Sentenced to 4 Years in Virginia Tax-Crimes Case

Paul Manafort, center, is seen during his sentencing hearing in Alexandria Federal Court on March 7, 2019. The former Trump campaign chairman was convicted last year on five counts of filing false tax returns, two bank fraud charges, and one count of failing to report foreign bank accounts. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was sentenced to four years in prison Thursday by a federal judge in Virginia for his conviction on multiple financial fraud charges.

Calling the recommended sentencing guidelines “excessive,” U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III told Manafort that in the end it wasn’t a “mathematical equation” used to determine his sentence, but that he was guided by all of the factors raised.

Ellis decided on four years in prison as Manafort’s punishment, well below the special counsel’s recommendation of 19 to 24 years.

Manafort is a first-time offender, a “good friend” to those close to him and a “generous person,” Ellis said, adding the sentence resembles others he’s given for similar bank and tax fraud charges.

“The government can’t sweep away the history of all these previous sentences,” Ellis said before announcing his order.

With no prior criminal history, Ellis also commended Manafort for living “an otherwise blameless life” and complimented him as an individual who had “earned the admiration of a number of people.” He said he considered several letters of support for Manafort before rendering his decision.

This courtroom sketch depicts former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, center in a wheelchair, during his Thursday sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria, Va. Manafort was sentenced to nearly four years in prison for tax and bank fraud related to his work advising Ukrainian politicians, a significant break from sentencing guidelines that called for a 20-year prison term. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

Manafort appeared in court Thursday wearing a green prison jumpsuit, his hair gray. Looking fatigued, the longtime political strategist was rolled into court in a wheelchair, clutching a cane in his right hand for support when called to stand.

Ellis never forced Manafort to stand, allowing him to sit even when he addressed the court for the final time.

“I’m an old man, I understand,” Ellis said jokingly.

Manafort’s voice carried quietly across the silent courtroom.

“The last two years have been the most difficult for my family and I. To say that I feel humiliated and ashamed is a gross understatement,” Manafort said.

“My life, personally and professionally, is in shambles. Sitting in solitary confinement for these last nine months has allowed me to reflect on the choices I’ve made in my life.”

Manafort also thanked Judge Ellis for his “fairness” during the trial. But he never apologized, specifically, for his multimillion-dollar crimes.

This caught Judge Ellis’ attention before he handed down the sentence.

“I was surprised I didn’t hear you express regret. You never said, ‘I really, really, really regret not following the law,’” Ellis said. “I hope you will reflect on that.”

Ellis was also careful to emphasize that Manafort was “not convicted for anything to do with Russia colluding in the presidential election.”

“The real essence of his violation is that he stole from us, the people who pay their taxes,” Ellis said.

With time served, Manafort’s remaining sentence amounts to about 38 months.

During his trial last August in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, prosecutors accused Manafort of failing to report $16.5 million in income tied to his political consulting and lobbying work on behalf of Ukraine. The jury found him guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud after four days of deliberations.

All together, the president’s former campaign chairman hid over $55 million in foreign bank accounts and accrued some $25 million by manipulating loan applications and inflating his income and assets in order to secure bigger loans.

At Thursday’s hearing, prosecutors engaged in a lengthy back-and-forth with the judge as he weighed whether Manafort deserved any credit for “acceptance of responsibility.”

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, leaves court after a May 23, 2018, hearing in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

As part of his plea agreement, Manafort met with federal prosecutors for 50 hours, effectively “spilling his guts,” Ellis said.

But prosecutor Greg Andres called that point was moot. The details revealed in his proffer sessions simply weren’t relevant, the prosecutor said, because Manafort chose to go to fight the charges he faced in Virginia instead of taking responsibility from the outset, and because it was revealed that he lied to investigators – a direct breach of his plea agreement.

Defense attorney Kevin Downing dismissed the notion, saying Manafort’s case was “very unusual.”

“The process, the way in which it was handled by the special counsel – the court should consider the fact this was case was overcharged and ten of the eight charges he faced in Virginia were hung,” Downing said.

A bifurcated trial wouldn’t exist if not for the special counsel’s office, Downing argued.

“The government did offer to indict him in D.C. [alone],” Andres noted.

Prosecutors also squared off with Judge Ellis over the nature of fines and penalties he may face. Manafort still owns two houses with $4 million in equity – one in Alexandria, Virginia, the other in Palm Beach, Florida – plus a life insurance policy worth millions.

But just how much Manafort could really cough up is still a mystery, prosecutor Uzo Asonye said. Manafort has yet to submit all of his financial records despite an obligation to do so.

“He has significant assets and potentially more. In light of the fact that he’s guilty of fraud, I find this particularly troubling,” Asonye said. 

Manafort’s attorney Richard Westling rebuffed the prosecutor, saying there was “no evidence” he has the ability to pay roughly $24 million in restitution he might owe once the banks he defrauded finalize the sale of his properties.

When Ellis asked why Manafort hasn’t turned over the records, Westling’s response was simple, if cryptic.

“I can only say that it has been a very difficult process given his incarceration,” Westling said.

Manafort will face sentencing again next week in Washington, D.C. He pleaded guilty there 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.

Paul Manafort, left, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, 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)

He also copped to conspiracy to obstruct justice in the Washington case after prosecutors discovered he tampered with witnesses while out on bail. 

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson will deliver Manafort’s second sentence on March 13. It is up to her whether that sentence will run concurrently or consecutively with the Virginia sentence.

David Weinstein, current partner and expert in white-collar crime at Hinshaw and Culbertson in Coral Gables, Florida, has long followed Manafort’s case. In an email to Courthouse News on Thursday night, Weinstein, also a former federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami, said he was “shocked to see a sentence” so low.

“This is a significant variance from the advisory guidelines and depending on how much time Manafort is given in [the Washington, D.C. case] the government may seek to appeal the sentence,” Weinstein said.

Calling it a “tremendous defeat” for the Special Counsel’s office, Weinstein said prosecutors must use what happened Thursday to strengthen their arguments to Judge Jackson in Washington next week.

“She has a different perspective and judicial temperament,” Weinstein said.

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