Prosecution in Manafort Trial Aims to Rest Friday

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – With just four witnesses left to take the stand, prosecutors for Special Counsel Robert Mueller said Thursday they expect to rest their fraud case against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort this week.

In this courtroom drawing former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, left, sits with his lawyer Kevin Downing as Manafort’s trial continues at federal court in Alexandria, Va., on Aug. 7, 2018. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

Thursday marked the eighth day of Manafort’s trial on multiple charges of tax and bank fraud.

Among the witnesses jurors heard from was Peggy Miceli, vice president of underwriting management at Citizens Bank. According to Miceli, Manafort wouldn’t have been able to secure a loan for roughly $3.4 million against one of his New York City properties if the bank would have been aware the property was actually a rental instead of a second residence.

The loan surpassed the maximum limit of $1 million for an investment property and while some exceptions can be made, Miceli said, they didn’t apply to Manafort.

If the bank had known Manafort reported on his taxes that the property was available for rent all year, Citizens Bank would have considered it an investment property, she said.

Miceli also told prosecutor Uzo Asonye the bank would have wanted to know if a loan forgiveness letter for $1.5 million to Manafort from Peranova Holdings – one of his Cypriot entities – had been written in 2016 and if it was backdated.

“We would question that,” she confirmed.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Jay Nanavati asked Miceli if she believed it would have been relevant for Citizens Bank to know that the Peranova Holding entity belonged to the former lobbyist.

“Yes, it would have,” Miceli said, noting that it could have altered the decision to loan money to begin with.

Nanavati quickly strayed from Peranova and instead focused on Citizens Bank policy.

In the last year, the bank launched a partnership with Airbnb and Fannie Mae that allows people to use rental income earned through the site to refinance home mortgages.

During cross, Miceli said she wasn’t aware of the program at any point before or after her dealings with Manafort.

But on redirect, prosecutor Asonye contended it might not have mattered much whether Miceli knew about it. The program only applies to Airbnb hosts who list their primary residence on the site for short-term rentals and Manafort’s properties were rented beyond the short-term maximum, he said.

Citizens Bank loan officer Taryn Rodriguez also testified Thursday, followed by Gary Seferian of Banc of California.

Rodriguez worked on a $5.5 million loan Manafort sought on a brownstone on Union Street in Brooklyn. Rodriguez said the application for the loan went south when she discovered during a lien search that there was already a mortgage on the property.

Manafort had not disclosed that to her, she said.

Rodriguez could not remember the exact amount of the lien on the Union Street property, but testified it was in the “millions” of dollars.

She said it was “very unusual” for a borrower not to disclose the existence of a loan and that the outstanding loan could have reduced the amount of cash available to Manafort. Ultimately, he never received that loan.

When called to testify, Banc of California’s Seferian detailed records behind a $5 million loan request Manafort made in March 2016.

Manafort’s former assistant Rick Gates touched on the Banc of California loan during his testimony earlier this week, telling jurors it was Manafort who directed him to alter profit and loss statements that would accompany their loan application.

According to Gates, Manafort wanted to alter the sheet because there simply wasn’t sufficient income to secure the loan.

On the first application, the reported income was listed as $400,000. But with some adjustments at Manafort’s alleged behest, Gates changed it to $6 million before submitting the final unsecured loan application.

Manafort allegedly wanted the money to kick off a house-flipping venture with his former son-in-law Jeffrey Yohai. Seferian said he met with Manafort, Yohai, another Banc of California employee Kevin LaPorte and Manafort’s bank relationship manager Paris Kaufman in Los Angeles.

They reviewed several financial records together but because Yohai had “minimal liquidity,” Seferian said he “wasn’t comfortable” granting the full $5 million request. He would eventually settle on a $2 million loan.

Kathleen Manafort, right, wife of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, arrives at federal court to attend the trial of her husband in Alexandria, Va., on Aug. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The considerable decrease was a result of Manafort’s own omissions, Seferian said.

Manafort originally told Seferian he owned 100 percent of a property in Bridgehampton, New York, but closer review by the bank determined it was Kathleen Manafort, his wife, who owned the property in its entirety, according to Seferian.

Manafort would have had to ask his wife to join the loan application if they wanted to clear the $5 million request, but he refused to involve her, Seferian said.

Prosecutors didn’t pry as to why Kathleen was not asked to join the loan, but on cross-examination, defense attorney Nanavati appeared interested in quelling any curiosities jurors might have about the husband-wife relationship.

“Do you have any reason to believe they were estranged at that time?” Nanavati said.

Seferian said he would have no way of knowing.

The trial reconvenes at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, at 9:30 a.m. Friday.

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