Manafort, the Big Spender, Subject of Afternoon Testimony

Maximillian and Alan Katzman of Alan Couture in New York City.

(CN) – Despite U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III’s frequent reminders that it isn’t a crime to be rich, prosecutors at the trial of Paul Manafort on Wednesday afternoon sought to highlight the lavish spending habits of President Trump’s former campaign manager.

The first witness called after a lunchtime recess was Maximilliam Katzman, whose father owns Alan Couture, a high-end men’s fashion store in New York City.

Katzman, who works at the store, testified that it only has about 40 regular clients and that Manafort was one of its top five customers, buying mostly suits, sportscoats and outerwear.

Earlier in the day, Ellis had placed limits on what prosecutors could show jurors to illustrate Manafort’s spending habits, telling prosecutor Uzo Asonye that “Mr. Manafort is not on trial for having a lavish lifestyle.”

Prosecutors argued the evidence they want to show — mostly photographs — are important because they show how Manafort allegedly spent his untaxed income on luxuries. Ellis has allowed prosecutors to show receipted, ledgers and invoices, but has mostly excluded pictoral evidence.

When it came to Katzman’s testimony, prosecutors had freer rein — up to a point.

The clothier told the jury that Manafort was the only Alan Couture client to pay for clothing with international wire transfers, and he confirmed that documents collected by the FBI showed the political consultant spent thousands on custom-made clothing.

Among the invoices Katzman reviewed for the jury were one for four suits and two pairs of pants totaling $15,195.

On average, he said, Manafort spent about $100,000 a year at the store in 2010, 2011, and 2012. In 2013, Katzman said, Manafort spent a whopping $443,160 at the store.

At this point, Ellis stopped the questioning abruptly.

“The whole point of this [trial] is that he failed to sign tax returns. I don’t understand the need to prove he lived lavishly,” Ellis said.

“Judge, this is not to show he lived lavishly but to prove his income,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Andres said.

Ellis permitted the line of questioning to continue but when Andres wanted to show the jury a photo of the label of one of Katzman’s suits – prosecutors said it would make the clothes identifiable for jurors in other pictures where they might appear – the judge put his foot down.

“Government doesn’t prosecute people because they wear nice clothes. That’s enough,” he said.

When Andres again started talking, but Ellis shut him down.

“I said that’s enough,” Ellis said.

Katzman was followed to the stand by Ronald Wall, a finance executive at House of Bijan, a high-end clothing store in Beverly Hills.

Like Katzman, Wall said Manafort paid for his purchases with wire transfers, but he wasn’t the only customer to do so.

That theme continued when Daniel Opsut, a salesman at Mercedez Benz of Alexandria took the stand. He said he personally know of a wire transfer from an entity called Lucicle Consultants, a Cypriot shell company that prosecutors claim Manafort used to hide money he received from the Ukraine.

Manafort bought a new 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 for $123,000 from the dealership. He and his wife, Kathleen, traded in two older Mercedes-Benz vehicles, valued at $56,000, and wired the rest of the payment from an offshore account.

Prosecutors also introduced a stipulation into evidence that Manafort and his daughter used an $85,525 wire transfer from Lucicle Consultants to pay for a 2012 Land Rover from Don Beyer Motors in Falls Church, Virginia.

The Manaforts later bought a $67,655 Range Rover using the same payment method, prosecutors said.

Stephen Jacobson, a longtime construction contractor who worked on projects at Manafort’s homes in the Hamptons and New York City, told jurors he was paid millions for renovations, almost always with  wire transfers.

He said in 2010, 2011, and 2012, he billed Manafort about $500,000 a year, and in 2013 he billed Manafort $1.13 million.

“It’s literally hundreds and hundreds of pages of billing over the course of the years,” said Jacobson, whose testimony was noteworthy because it included the first time the name “Trump” was utted in the courtroom.

It came up as Jacobson described renovations he made in Manafort’s apartment in Trump Tower. Prosecutors quickly moved on from talking about that project.

As Wednesday unfolded, Ellis frequently crossed swords with attorneys on both sides. He has told prosecutors to limit their use of an extensive trove of evidence, saying that some documents and photographs were not relevant to charges that Manafort tried to hide millions of dollars in income on his tax returns.

He also admonished attorneys on both sides to stop rolling their eyes after leaving the bench or in response to his rulings.

The lawyers’ facial expressions, Ellis said, appeared to show them thinking “why do we have to put up with this idiot judge?”

Later, Ellis told the attorneys “it’s my job to see we get this thing down with the least amount of wasted time.”

Asonye said the prosecution believes it will rest its case against Manafort next week.


%d bloggers like this: