Saturday, September 23, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, September 23, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Manafort Money ‘Littered With Lies,’ Feds Tell Jury

As the bank and tax-fraud trial of former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort heads to closing arguments Wednesday, prosecutors and the defense will each have roughly two hours to sum up their cases.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) - Prosecutors told jurors during closing arguments Wednesday that Paul Manafort is “not above the law,” while defense attorneys for the former Trump campaign chairman argued evidence presented by the government does not add up to criminal conduct.

“Mr. Manafort lied to keep more money when he had it, and he lied to get more money when he didn’t,” said Greg Andres from the special counsel’s office.

The government has argued Manafort used overseas bank accounts to shield from U.S. taxes more than $15 million he earned from political consulting in Ukraine. To further defer his tax obligations, Manafort is also said to have misreported some of his income as loans.

Andres told the jury that the money helped Manafort live lavishly in the United States. The 69-year-old owns many houses, and upkeep of the properties was ongoing.

Moving to the bank-fraud charges of Manafort’s 32-count indictment, Andres said this activity began around 2015 when the ouster of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych caused the money from his political work to dry up.

Andres pointed to testimony from bank employees, as well as from Manafort’s tax preparers and bookkeepers, who said Manafort falsified financial documents from his businesses and did not disclose liens on his properties in order to receive more than $20 million across five loans from three banks.

“When you follow the trail of Mr. Manafort’s money, it is littered with lies,” Andres said.

Prosecutor Andres also emphasized to jurors: “If you have any doubt that he’s guilty of bank fraud or conspiracy to commit bank fraud at the Federal Savings Bank, then all you need to remember is that he sent a fake profit and loss sheet to Federal Savings Bank.”

“Remember, he lied about where he lived and liens on his property. He altered some documents and backdated others,” Andres said.

All told, Andres continued, Manafort had 31 overseas bank accounts from 2010 to 2014.

“Mr. Manafort hid his offshore accounts. He hid them from his tax preparers. He lied about them. He never disclosed to his bookkeepers that they existed,” hesaid.

Andres said Manafort lied about his finances to “evade taxes on the clothes, the cars, the condos and the construction.”

“And remember, this trial is not about his wealth. We’re not here because he’s wealthy but because he filed false tax returns and failed to file FBARs,” Andres said, using the abbreviation for foreign bank account reports. “And the clothes, the cars, condos and construction, all of this is evidence of his unreported income.”

Manafort knows tax law, the prosecutor said later, adding the former lobbyist was “capable and bright” and “trained as a lawyer.”

“He knew the law and he violated it anyway,” Andres told the jury.

Throughout his closing arguments, Andres repeatedly pointed the jury to the reams of documents prosecutors have entered into evidence and displayed on televisions in the courtroom throughout the trial.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the star witness in this case is the documents,” Andres said.


This was particularly true for Manafort’s former assistant Rick Gates, whom defense attorneys have attempted to paint as an unreliable witness who stole from his longtime business partner.

Andres said prosecutors are not asking jurors to like Gates or to implicitly trust his testimony, but rather urged them to compare Gates’ words with what other witnesses have said and what the documents show.

Moving to the bank fraud charges against Manafort, Andres walked the jury back through evidence regarding Manafort’s many attempts to secure loans on properties he owned. He pointed to Manafort’s claim that a property on New York City’s Howard Street was a second home, when in fact the condo was almost continuously listed on the vacation rental site Airbnb.

He said this alone would be enough to convict Manafort of bank fraud, without even considering evidence that he backdated documents showing a loan from one of the foreign entities he controlled had been forgiven or that he did not disclose a mortgage on a property in Brooklyn.

Andres also spent a portion of his closing arguments on two loans Manafort received from Federal Savings Bank that have been the trial’s main tie to the Trump campaign. Steve Calk, the bank’s founder and CEO, personally approved Manafort’s loans and expressed interest in working on the campaign and in the Trump administration, witnesses testified at trial.

Andres referred to Calk as a “guiding hand” on Manafort’s loans from the bank, but also emphasized Manafort supplied the bank with fake business records to overstate his income at a time when he was struggling to pay his bills.

“This case is about Paul Manafort and his money and how he kept that money [hidden]. The evidence is overwhelming to tax fraud and failure to register foreign bank accounts," Andres concluded. "Ladies and gentleman, this case is about when he didn’t have money and how he lied to get more.”

The prosecution wrapped its closing arguments after using most of the two hours allotted.

Defense attorneys Richard Westling and Kevin Downing each delivered part of closing arguments for Manafort’s team.

Westling began by telling jurors that he and other attorneys are “proud and honored” to have represented Manafort over the course of the trial and that he was confident in their ability to render a fair and impartial verdict.

He emphasized the “pillars” of the justice system: presumption of innocence, burden of proof and reasonable doubt.

“The presumption of innocence requires you to acquit unless there is definitive guilt,” Westling said. “Paul Manafort is innocent.”

Reasonable doubt, Westling told jurors, “sometimes is very difficult to overcome.”

“It is not enough for a person to be highly likely of guilt… we’re asking you to hold the government to its full burden because that’s what this entire system is built on,” he said.

Manafort involved Gates, tax preparers Heather Washkuhn and Cindy Laporta, banker Dennis Raico and others in his financial dealings, Westling said, arguing that no secrecy was involved.

When it comes to alleged bank fraud, Westling said the government’s claim that Manafort didn’t have enough money or needed extra money to pay for his “lifestyle,” and turned to crime to fund it, doesn’t add up.


“At the end of 2016, Paul had money in other institutions totaling $8.6 million and his adjusted net worth was $21.3 million. Given this, how can they say he didn’t have the money? So, why did the government say this?”

Westling argued the special counsel was forcibly fitting pieces together to serve their broader investigation.

“This is a bank fraud case. It’s not enough to give wrong information to a bank. It has to be done with intent to deceive them and there is little, if any, evidence, other than from Rick Gates, that this is what is going on here,” he said.

The banks never reported any abnormalities until the “special counsel showed up and started asking,” Westling added.

The defense attorney argued prosecutors’ “goal was to stack the counts against Mr. Manafort and to give you a sense that the evidence was so overwhelming, there was only one conclusion.”

Westling also told jurors to question why the government primarily called witnesses who did not have decision making authority at the various banks to which Manafort applied for loans. He noted Calk and the loan officers who determined whether Manafort received a loan did not testify at the trial.

“None of them have been witnesses here in court,” Westling said, pausing. “It’s for you to determine what that means.”

Westling sought to explain discrepancies in the loan applications by arguing the applications were true at the time Manafort submitted them. It was only later, when Manafort received new loans or made a different decision about how he planned to use a house, that the facts relevant to the applications changed, he said.

He argued the government failed to prove his client intended to defraud the banks when he submitted his loan applications, saying if what Manafort did was bank fraud “we would have courts across the country filled with bank fraud.”

In contrast to Andres’ plea for the jury to primarily focus on the documents in evidence, Westling urged jurors to rely on the witness testimony. He said emails can sometimes leave out the context necessary to clarify important issues such as intent.

Before turning the podium over to fellow defense attorney Downing, Westling raised a question about Manafort’s signatures on several documents presented in the case. He noted previous witnesses, none of whom were handwriting experts, testified Manafort’s signatures appeared to differ across the documents.

Downing picked up on this after he arranged his laptop and notebook on the podium, tying the discrepancies in the signatures to Gates.

Downing argued that while Manafort removed his signature from the foreign accounts he controlled, Gates did not because he intended to embezzle money from Manafort.

Downing went after Gates’ credibility, saying that while Gates had good recollection on direct examination from the government, “he fell apart and showed himself to be the liar that he is” when facing questions from the defense on cross-examination.

The defense attorney said Gates testified that Manafort agreed to give him a bonus of $250,000 but the figure changed to $350,000 at another point in the trial.

“And whenever he didn’t know what to say, he just said it was ‘some kind of bonus,’” Downing told the jury.

Downing also zeroed in on Gates’ extramarital affairs and his “secret life,” a refrain the attorney used often during his cross-examination of Manafort’s onetime assistant.


“The government and special counsel were so desperate to make a case against Mr. Manafort…they trusted Rick Gates,” Downing said.

Downing told jurors that benefits from Gates’ plea deal with the government drove him to testify against his former boss.

“Now you know why he came here, to get one over on you,” he said. “If he cooperates, he can walk out of here on probation.”

“Once you decide he is not credible, then the government has had a major failure,” Downing added.

On rebuttal, prosecutor Andres used his 15 minutes to argue the special counsel’s case by reminding jurors of a few facts.

“The defense wants you to believe this is about Gates but they haven’t explained the dozens of documents Mr. Manafort authored or wrote himself,” he said.

Referring to an email from accountant Philip Ayliff to Manafort where Ayliff asked if he had any foreign bank accounts to disclose ahead of tax preparation, Andres reminded jurors Gates was not included on the exchange.

“When Mr. Manafort sent false profit and loss statements to Dennis Raico, there was no reference to Rick Gates. Not in the from line, not in the to line and not in the subject line,” he repeated.

Andres also cited an email in which a Banc of California representative asked Manafort if Gates would be “the quarterback” in the coordination of providing requested financial documents.

“If Gates is the quarterback, then who is the coach? Who is the owner of the team?” the prosecutor said.

Manafort also once asked for help converting a PDF to a Word document so he could alter records, Andres noted.

“How is it Manafort has nothing to do with these accounts but he is the one who provided the documents?” Andres said.

“And you don’t need to be an underwriter to know that false statements about mortgages are important and relevant to bankers,” he added. “The defense is asking you to ignore your common sense.”

A chart that defense attorney Westling provided establishing standards around the requirements of reasonable doubt should also be ignored, Andres said, and instead jurors should only consider instruction about reasonable doubt from Judge Ellis himself.

The prosecutor said the defense’s chart is “worth as much as those profit and loss sheets Mr. Manafort showed to the bank.”

Judge Ellis said he would give jury instructions Wednesday afternoon. It is unclear if jurors will begin deliberating Wednesday evening or Thursday morning.

After 23 witnesses took the stand for the prosecution, which also entered thousands of pages of documents into evidence, Manafort’s defense rested their case Tuesday without presenting any witnesses or evidence of their own.

Manafort also opted to forgo testifying on his own behalf, uttering “no, sir” – some of the only words he has spoken since trial began – when U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III asked the 69-year-old directly Tuesday if he wished to testify.

Though a federal judge in Washington revoked Manafort’s bail months earlier for witness tampering, Manafort has often appeared unbowed over the course of his 12-day trial.

Clad in a dark suit and tie, the lobbyist usually enters the courtroom with a smile and a wink for his wife, Kathleen Manafort. She has sat just feet behind him every day, accompanied by two longtime friends.

At the table where he sits beside his attorneys, Manafort was frequently taking regular notes and conferring with his counsel in hushed whispers. On shorter recesses, when not hauled away from the courtroom by a court officer, Manafort could be seen standing with his hands in his pockets, shoulders back and chatting almost casually with his lawyers, Kevin Downing, Thomas Zehnle, Brian Ketchum, Richard Westling and Jay Nanavati.

If Manafort is found guilty, he faces life in prison. Regardless of the verdict, Manafort will also face a separate criminal trial this September in Washington on alleged violations of foreign lobbying rules.

Categories / Criminal, Trials

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.