Paul Manafort, who helped define Washington’s modern lobbying culture and advised four U.S. presidents, was sentenced to less than four years in prison for hiding millions of dollars offshore to support a glittering lifestyle that included six homes, dozens of custom suits and a $15,000 ostrich jacket.
Manafort, 69, faced the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison, but got a break from the federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia, Thursday who called a recommendation for a sentence of 19 years to 24 1/2 years excessive.
Manafort’s punishment of three years and 11 months behind bars could still get worse. He faces another decade in prison when he’s sentenced March 13 in Washington for conspiracy counts related to a secret lobbying campaign on behalf of Ukraine and for joining a Russian associate in tampering with witnesses.
The downfall of Manafort, President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman for four months, came at the hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who depicted him as a serial liar who defrauded tax authorities and banks while concealing his political consulting for pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine. Mueller is investigating whether Trump’s campaign conspired with Russians who interfered with the 2016 election.
Manafort, who attended the hearing in a wheelchair, wearing a green jumpsuit, had asked the judge for mercy in a brief statement. He was convicted of eight felonies, including hiding $55 million abroad, cheating the U.S. of more than $6 million in taxes, and defrauding banks that lent him money. His lawyers didn’t dispute that his crimes were serious, conceding he didn’t report income made offshore to the Internal Revenue Service, hid accounts from the Treasury Department, and lied to lenders after his cash dwindled.
But they insisted that Manafort, who worked on Trump’s campaign without pay, never colluded with Russia. They said Mueller singled him out because he worked for Trump. And they said Manafort’s work for former President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine wasn’t on behalf of a Kremlin-aligned politician, as Mueller contends, but rather an effort to steer Ukraine toward the U.S.-friendly European Union.
Yanukovych fled to Moscow after protests in 2014. Low on cash, Manafort tried to leverage properties in New York, Florida, and Virginia as he lied to banks to secure loans.
After his conviction in Alexandria, Manafort averted a trial in Washington by pleading guilty to two conspiracy counts and agreeing to cooperate with Mueller. But prosecutors said he repeatedly lied to them in debriefings while failing to come clean about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime associate allegedly tied to Russian intelligence.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington ruled that Manafort deliberately lied about his contacts with Kilimnik, calling it an “attempt to shield his Russian conspirator from liability” and saying it raised “legitimate questions about where his loyalties lie.”
Prosecutors said that during the 2016 campaign, Manafort shared Trump polling data with Kilimnik, and they discussed a peace plan to resolve sanctions imposed on Russia after it annexed Ukraine. Mueller also appeared to examine whether Manafort and Kilimnik possibly were a back channel for communications between Russia and Trump, but neither man was formally accused of that. Manafort’s lawyers also firmly denied that he conspired with Russia.
Mueller also investigated whether Manafort sought a pardon from Trump–a possibility that still exists.
In his Virginia trial, prosecutors cast Manafort as a globe-trotting, cash-hungry villain bent on skirting the law. Jurors heard how Manafort used wire transfers from offshore accounts to pay for houses, cars, clothes, and rugs. Manafort spent on custom clothes from Alan Couture in New York and the House of Bijan in Beverly Hills, as well as improvements to homes in the Hamptons and Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
Jurors heard from Rick Gates, Manafort’s right-hand man, who pleaded guilty and is cooperating with Mueller’s investigators. Gates recounted how he helped Manafort cheat the IRS and banks for years, but on cross-examination, he admitted that he stole from his boss and lied to prosecutors.
Manafort was considered a gifted political strategist who advised Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Trump, all of them Republicans. As an international political lobbyist, he reaped millions of dollars by working for strongmen like Jonas Savimbi in Angola, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire.
He made more than $60 million in Ukraine from 2010 to 2014, and his efforts were largely funded by Ukrainian oligarchs, prosecutors said. He also worked for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who later sued Manafort and Gates claiming they defrauded him on a business transaction.
In court filings, Manafort’s lawyers said he’s a generous and supportive friend and family man, despite his crimes of deception. They said he helped nurse his wife Kathy back from a traumatic brain injury suffered in a horse accident in 1998.
Manafort has been in a northern Virginia jail since June 15, when the Washington judge ordered him locked up over accusations that he and Kilimnik tampered with witnesses.
He has gout, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a potential thyroid problem, his lawyers say. He also suffers from anxiety, panic attacks, and claustrophobia, they say. Prosecutors said the Bureau of Prisons can handle all of those problems.