Paul Manafort, Former Trump Campaign Chairman, Sentenced To Just Under 4 Years

Mar 7, 2019
Originally published on March 8, 2019 2:10 pm

Updated at 9:06 p.m. ET

President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced to just under four years in prison on Thursday after being convicted last year of tax and bank fraud.

The 47-month sentence from federal Judge T.S. Ellis III was the culmination of the only case brought to trial so far by the office of Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.

The judge also ordered Manafort to pay $24.8 million in restitution and a $50,000 fine.

Prosecutors laid out their arguments against Manafort last August, charging that he defrauded banks and the U.S. government by skirting millions of dollars in federal taxes.

The government described Manafort's lavish lifestyle — he assembled a wardrobe that included a $15,000 ostrich leather jacket and more than $1 million worth of suits — and argued that he had committed the crimes not out of "necessity or hardship," but pure greed.

Manafort pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys sought to pin the blame for wrongdoing on Manafort's former protégé, Rick Gates, who cooperated with prosecutors by testifying against Manafort in exchange for leniency.

Ultimately, jurors found Manafort guilty of eight of the 18 charges he faced: two counts of bank fraud, five counts of tax fraud and one count of failing to declare a foreign bank account.

Sentencing guidelines for those convictions recommended a prison sentence of between 19 and 24 years, but the decision was ultimately up to Ellis.

At Thursday's sentencing hearing, Ellis called the guidelines range "excessive" and "totally out of whack." He cited a number of similar financial crime defendants who received much shorter sentences.

"The government cannot sweep away the history of all these previous cases," Ellis said.

Still, Ellis said Manafort was convicted of "very serious crimes."

"In essence, it's a theft of money from everyone that pays taxes," Ellis said.

Manafort asked judge to go easy

Manafort entered the hearing room Thursday in a wheelchair, dressed in a baggy green prison jumpsuit.

In asking for a lighter sentence, Manafort's lawyers cited his age — he turns 70 next month — and health problems. He is a first-time offender, and he suffers from gout and other ailments.

Manafort did not testify during his trial. But he did speak Thursday for about three minutes to deliver his allocution.

He said the past two years have been the hardest he and his family have experienced, and they've taken a toll on his health, finances and professional life.

"To say I feel humiliated and ashamed would be an understatement," Manafort said. "I ask you for compassion."

He did not, however, express regret or remorse for his actions — a point that Ellis noted.

Russia connection?

Throughout the trial, the special counsel's office never made a case against Manafort related to its overarching mandate — investigating any links or coordination between Trump's campaign and the Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Ellis made a point of that at the beginning of Thursday's hearing.

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

Even with Thursday's sentencing, Manafort's legal challenges are not over.

He is also scheduled to be sentenced next week in a separate but related case in Washington, D.C. He pleaded guilty in that case to two conspiracy counts and agreed to cooperate with investigators.

That cooperation deal collapsed after the government accused Manafort of lying to prosecutors. The presiding judge in that case, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, heard from both sides on that point and ultimately agreed with the government.

Manafort faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison in the D.C. case. The big question hanging over sentencing there, though, is whether whatever time he receives behind bars would be served concurrent with the sentence he received Thursday.

Also, a court filing that was inadvertently unsealed earlier this year, revealed that Manafort shared polling data with a business associate who has ties to Russian intelligence services.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A federal judge has given Paul Manafort at least a chance not to spend the rest of his life in prison. Manafort is President Trump's former campaign chairman convicted of financial crimes. Prosecutors highlighted the $15,000 ostrich jacket and more than $1 million worth of suits that Manafort owned. He supported his lifestyle with illicit dealings in Ukraine. Federal sentencing guidelines suggested up to 24 years in prison for the defendant, who is 69. Why give him just under four years instead?

NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas was at the courthouse and is in our studios. Good morning.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Well, what was the reasoning by Judge T.S. Ellis?

LUCAS: Well, Ellis made clear in his sentencing that Manafort's crimes are serious. He wanted to spell that out clearly. We're talking about tax fraud, failing to disclose a foreign bank account and bank fraud. The tax fraud, in particular, Ellis said is basically stealing from every American who pays taxes. That's a serious crime.

But Ellis also said that, you know, you take all sorts of factors into consideration when coming up with a sentence - general deterrence, you look at the entirety of a defendant's life. And he said, in Manafort's case, he's a first-time offender. Otherwise, blameless life.

And you also look at sentences in similar cases, and that appeared to be a big factor in Manafort's sentence. As you noted, the guidelines' range was 19 to 24 years. Ellis said that's way out of whack. He landed on a total of 47 months, but he also imposed financial penalties - nearly $25 million in restitution - and...

INSKEEP: That is a lot of ostrich jackets...

LUCAS: ...A $50,000 fine.

INSKEEP: ...I suppose we should say. Manafort himself must have made a case for a shorter sentence?

LUCAS: He did. Manafort was actually wheeled into the courtroom yesterday in a wheelchair. He sat in that wheelchair throughout the entirety of the nearly four-hour proceedings. He was wearing a baggy green prison uniform. And he spoke in what's known as allocution. And he said, you know, the last two years have been the most difficult years that he and his family have ever experienced. He said that he feels humiliation and shame. He knows that he's caused deep, deep pain to his family. And he's spent nine months already in jail.

He said he feels the punishment from these proceedings. It's impacted his health, his professional and financial life. He says that he has had time to reflect while in jail. He wants to turn his notoriety into something positive, and he asked for the court's compassion. But Judge T.S. Ellis did say, right before he imposed his sentence, I didn't hear you say you regret what you did.

INSKEEP: Wow.

LUCAS: I didn't hear you say I'm sorry.

INSKEEP: Nevertheless, the 47-month sentence rather than the 24-year sentence. But is 47 months the entirety of the time that Manafort could possibly spend in prison?

LUCAS: Well, Manafort has a second case. That case is here in Washington, D.C. He pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges. This is a case that was also brought by special counsel Robert Mueller. Manafort, in D.C, agreed to cooperate with the government. That cooperation deal collapsed after the special counsel's team essentially said that he lied to investigators about a number of things.

The presiding judge in D.C., Judge Amy Berman Jackson, agreed with the government. The maximum sentence that Manafort faces here in D.C. is 10 years. Now, the question that hangs over all of this is whether Judge Jackson here in D.C. is going to make him serve, whatever sentence she gives him, simultaneously or stagger it. So is he going to get another 10 years in addition to what he got in Virginia?

INSKEEP: Any chance of a presidential pardon?

LUCAS: The president has not taken that entirely off the table, but his lawyers say it's not under discussion.

INSKEEP: Ryan, thanks so much.

LUCAS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.