Paul Manafort sentenced to nearly 4 years in prison

A federal judge on Thursday sentenced former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to 47 months in prison, well below the amount recommended in sentencing guidelines.

The sentence imposed by Judge T.S. Ellis III, a Reagan appointee, was significantly less than the 19 1/2 to 24 years advised in federal guidelines.

In remarks from the bench, he described Manafort’s crimes as “very serious” but said he found the guideline range “not at all appropriate,” and pointed to significantly more-lenient sentences handed down in similar cases.

Manafort, who turns 70 next month, appeared in court in a wheelchair and wore a dark green jumpsuit.

His prison sentence will include time served, meaning nine months will be knocked off for the time he has already spent in jail during the trial. As a result, he will be incarcerated for a total of three years and two months for crimes uncovered during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Ellis also ordered Manafort to serve three years of supervised release, and pay a $50,000 fine and $24 million in restitution.

“You’ve been convicted of serious crimes -- very serious crimes -- by a jury,” Ellis said to a packed courtroom after a lengthy sentencing hearing in federal court in Alexandria, Va., that lasted more than three hours.

However, he added, “I think that sentencing range is excessive. I don’t think that is warranted in this case.”

Manafort read prepared remarks while seated in his wheelchair, saying he does not recognize the person he has been described as. He added that the worst pain he feels is the pain he caused his family.

“To say that I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement,” Manafort said, adding that his life is “professionally and financially is in shambles.”

Manafort said he reflected on his life choices while in solitary confinement.

“This reflection has created a desire to turn my notoriety into a positive and show the world who I really am,” he told the court.

The former Trump associate repeatedly thanked Ellis for conducting a fair trial, which he said he knows was not easy given the frenzied media atmosphere. He also asked for compassion.

But at no point did Manafort express remorse for his actions – something Ellis noted.

“I was surprised that I did not hear you express regret,” Ellis said before announcing the sentence. “That doesn’t make any difference on the judgment that I am about to make … but I hope you reflect on that.”

Manafort’s attorneys had asked Ellis to consider a more lenient punishment, citing their client’s age, poor health and assistance in Mueller’s probe. On Thursday, defense attorney Thomas Zehnle pointed to other cases in which defendants received much less prison time for similar crimes.

Greg Andres, one of Mueller’s prosecutors, argued that Manafort should be given a “substantial sentence” consistent with the guidelines range. He accused Manafort of committing “serious crimes” and engaging in “sophisticated schemes” over several years.

“Mr. Manafort himself made criminal choices and those choices have consequences,” Andres said.

Neither Manafort nor his wife, Kathleen, showed emotion when the sentence was handed down. Prosecutors bypassed cameras set up outside the courthouse after the proceedings and made no statements.

In a brief statement to reporters outside the courthouse, lead defense attorney Kevin Downing said Manafort had finally gotten to speak for himself and made clear that he 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 with any collusion with any government official from Russia,” he said.

Manafort was convicted by a jury in August of eight criminal charges -- five counts of filing false tax returns, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to report foreign bank accounts.

His case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia marked the first criminal trial in the Mueller investigation. But as the defense noted, Manafort’s crimes had nothing to do with Russian election meddling or collusion with the Trump campaign.

Ellis even said during the trial that Mueller’s team was not permitted to mention the investigation into possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.

“He is not before the court for anything having to do with colluding with the Russian government to influence the election,” Ellis said Thursday.

Federal prosecutors spent almost two full weeks over the summer detailing how Manafort hid $55 million in foreign bank accounts, cheated the public out of more than $6 million in taxes on income from his work as a political consultant for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, and defrauded banks when the money ran out.

The amount of money he spent on cars, landscaping, home entertainment and high-end clothing, including $15,000 for an ostrich jacket, made national headlines.

Manafort will likely end up paying less than $24 million in restitution because the properties he has been forced to forfeit will go toward the debt owed to banks he defrauded.

Ellis appeared to grapple with whether to order Manafort to pay an additional fine since he does not yet know how much Manafort will be forced to pay in restitution and how that will affect his ability to pay.

Uzo Asonye, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia working on Mueller’s team, argued that Manafort still has two homes worth $4 million that he has not been forced to hand over, as well as millions of dollars in other assets.

To avoid a second criminal trial on separate charges in Washington, D.C., Manafort previously reached a plea deal with Mueller that involved his full cooperation with federal prosecutors. But the federal judge presiding over his case in D.C. found that he lied to investigators and a federal grand jury about subjects “material” to Mueller’s investigation.

Andres on Thursday described Manafort’s cooperation as insufficient to warrant any reduction in his sentence in Virginia. He also said the length of Manafort’s proffer sessions with the government -- which totaled roughly 50 hours -- was largely due to a need to tease out truthful information from Manafort.

“Because he lied, it took longer to show Mr. Manafort what the evidence was,” Andres said. “He did not provide valuable information.”

Manafort was initially scheduled for sentencing in early February, but Ellis postponed the hearing to let Judge Amy Berman Jackson in D.C. determine whether Manafort’s misstatements were unintentional, as Manafort had argued. Ellis said at the time he thought Jackson’s ruling could impact his own sentencing of Manafort.

Manafort is scheduled to be sentenced in D.C. on Wednesday for conspiracy against the U.S. and conspiracy to obstruct justice by tampering with witnesses. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for those charges.

After the sentence in Virginia was issued, Downing asked if Ellis could order his sentence to run concurrently with the sentence Jackson is set to render next week.

“I can’t, she can,” Ellis said. “I think it’s entirely up to her.”

Manafort could walk free from federal punishment if President Trump decides to pardon him, but it’s unclear whether the president plans to pursue that avenue. The New York Times recently reported that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is planning to bring state charges against Manafort regardless.

Mueller has charged Manafort and five other Trump associates in the course of his investigation with crimes that include financial violations, false statements and obstruction. The special counsel also indicted more than two-dozen Russians involved in plots to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, but none of the charges have alleged any conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

There is broad speculation that Mueller is close to wrapping up his nearly two-year investigation, which has weathered consistent public attacks from Trump since its infancy. Mueller is expected to deliver a report to Attorney General William Barr upon his conclusion, but it remains unknown what parts -- if any of it -- will be sent to Congress or made public.

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.