Ex-Trump man jailed for tax, bank fraud

Former campaign chief Manafort sentenced to nearly four years behind bars and ordered to pay restitution, fine

Paul Manafort
Paul Manafort
Image: TimesLIVE

US President Donald Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort was sentenced to nearly four years in prison by a federal judge on Thursday for tax crimes and bank fraud in the highest-profile case yet stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Judge TS Ellis immediately came under fire from Democratic lawmakers for imposing what they described as a relatively light sentence on the 69year-old Republican political consultant and lobbyist.

Prosecutors from the special counsel’s office had argued for a stiff prison term for Manafort, the first target of Mueller’s Russia probe to be convicted in a criminal trial.

Ellis said that while Manafort had committed very serious crimes, he had previously led an otherwise blameless life and the advisory sentencing guidelines calling for 19 to 24 years behind bars were excessive and disproportionate to sentences for similar offences.

“The government cannot sweep away the history of all these previous sentences,” the judge said.

Manafort was convicted by a jury in August of five counts of filing false income tax returns, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to report a foreign bank account.

He is one of a half-dozen former Trump associates and senior aides charged by Mueller, who has been investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

The charges against Manafort were not connected to his role in the Trump campaign, which he headed for two months in 2016, but were related to lucrative consulting work he did for Russian-backed Ukrainian politicians from 2004 to 2014.

Prosecutors alleged that Manafort used offshore bank accounts to hide more than $55m (R799m) he earned working for the Ukrainians.

The money was used to support a lavish lifestyle.

His conviction was a stunning downfall for a man who also worked on the White House bids of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and Bob Dole.

Speaking from a wheelchair and wearing a green prison jumpsuit, Manafort told the court that his life “professionally and personally, is in a shambles”. The defence says Manafort suffers from gout.

“I feel the pain and shame. To say that I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement,” he said.

The judge sentenced him to 47 months in prison on eight counts and credited him with nine months of time served.

He was also ordered to pay $24m (R348m) in restitution and a $50,000 (R725,000) fine.

Manafort still faces sentencing in a money-laundering and witness-tampering case in Washington next week, where the maximum penalty is 10 years and the judge has appeared more sympathetic to prosecutors.

Defence attorney Kevin Downing said after the sentencing Manafort “accepts responsibility for his conduct”.

“I think most importantly, what you saw today is the same thing we had said from day one – there is absolutely no evidence that Paul Manafort was involved in any collusion with any government official from Russia,” Downing said.