(CN) – Prosecutors at Paul Manafort’s fraud and money laundering trial said Thursday they still plan to call Rick Gates, the former Trump campaign chairman’s former deputy, to testify, perhaps as early as Friday.
The revelation came a day after prosecutors suggested Gates, long believed to be their star witness, might not testify at all.
“We have every intention to call Gates as a witness,” assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye told U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III Thursday morning.
He added, however, that prosecutors believe they’ll prove Manafort’s guilt whether or not Gates testifies.
Toward that end, prosecutors today will ask jurors to follow the money in the Manafort trial, a trail they say shows that the former campaign chairman took millions from wealthy Ukrainian clients then hid it from banks and the Internal Revenue Service.
The prosecution witness list for Thursday features bookkeepers and accountants and appears intended to directly link Manafort to the financial fraud that government lawyers say enabled his extravagant lifestyle.
But U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III opened Wednesday’s proceedings with a discussion of another potential witness: Manafort himself.
While conferring with attorneys over whether the defense can mention the lack of an IRS audit before Manafort was charged, Ellis mentioned he didn’t know if the defendant was going to testify on his own behalf and did not want to force a decision so early in the trial.
“He will not be penalized for the right to remain silent,” Ellis said.
But the judge went on to say that if Manafort does testify, he may allow testimony about whether Manafort tried to make his situation right with the IRS and volunteer to be audited before his arrest.
On Wednesday, lawyers with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office detailed how Manafort personally directed millions of dollars in international wire transfers to pay for high-end suits and more than $3 million in improvements at various houses.
The first person called to testify Thursday was Joel Maxwell, chief operations officer of Big Picture Solutions, a home technology company based in Jupiter, Florida.
Maxwell said he began doing work for Manafort in 2011 and considered him one of his “Top 5” clients.
Manafort, he said, paid his company more than $2.2 million over the years for the installation of everything from wireless networks to audio/visual systems.
Most of the payments came through wire transfers from Manafort’s offshore accounts, Maxwell said, adding that he dealt directly with Manafort until 2013, and thereafter was billed by Rick Gates.
Prosecutors then displayed an invoice that purported to be for a $163,000 payment to Maxwell’s company.
Maxwell said he’d never seen the document before, and prosecutors noted that many of the details in the document, which originated from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, were wrong.
“We’re not an LLC,” Maxwell said of one of the discrepancies, adding the details in the document were not as detailed as they would have been if they’d been used in his office.
Prosecutors did not explain why they presented the document, but it appeared they were trying to build the case that Manafort fabricated invoices to hide various illicit transactions.
After Maxwell left the stand, the government entered three exhibits that showed various services Manafort paid for using wire transfers from foreign banks.
These included payments to a construction company that remodeled the bathroom in Manafort’s home in Palm Beach Gardens and to an audio company that installed a $10,000 karaoke machine and audio-visual system at another Manafort property.
Michael Regolizio, the head of New Leaf Landscaping, a landscaping firm that did work at Manafort’s Bridgehampton, Long Island home, said his company did a number of projects on the property beginning in 2010.
These included installing a large pond with a water features, a tennis court surrounded by hundreds of flowers, and an array of flowers in the shape of an “M.”
All told, Regolizio said, Manafort paid him about $350,000 for these services. But as in the case with Maxwell, prosecutors showed Regolizio several invoices he could not identify.
The trial is the first to stem from the Russia probe by special counsel Robert Mueller, who was tasked last year with investigating the Russian efforts to disrupt the 2016 presidential election and potential collusion with the Trump campaign.
That investigation is ongoing. Although Manafort’s financial fraud trial stems from the investigation, it is not directly tied Trump campaign activities.
While jurors have thus far been presented with evidence of Manafort’s extensive purchases of luxury cars, sprawling homes, jewels and custom-made clothing including a $15,000 ostrich jacket, the defense has indicated it will paint Gates as the person responsible for their clients bank and tax fraud woes.
According to defense attorneys Kevin Downing and Thomas Zehnle, the alleged betrayal by Gates, a former Manafort business associate, went on for years as he allegedly embezzled his boss and doctored financial records to head off the feds and keep Manafort none the wiser.
Gates, who plead guilty to conspiracy and making a false statement to the FBI last year in connection with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, and has been coopeerating with prosecutors ever since.
As the proceedings wrapped up on Wednesday, assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Andres said in addition to the bookkeepers and accountants, jurors will also hear from at least one more vendor who sold Manafort goods and services.