ALEXANDRIA, Virginia – Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chair, was sentenced Thursday to spend just over three years in prison for the slew of financial crimes he was found guilty of in Virginia last summer.
The judge sentenced Manafort to 47 months in prison, but he'll receive credit for the roughly nine months he's already spent in jail while the criminal cases brought against him by special counsel Robert Mueller have unfolded. He is the fifth person sentenced to prison out of Mueller's investigation, though the charges were not related to his work on Trump's campaign.
Although there was no direct mention of Trump during Thursday's hearing, the president and his public war on Mueller's investigation loomed over the proceedings. Early in the hearing, US District Judge T.S. Ellis III said he wanted to "underscore" that there were no allegations that Manafort or anyone at his direction colluded with anyone to interfere in the 2016 election. Manafort's lawyers repeated that point when they spoke with reporters outside the courthouse after the hearing.
The sentence imposed by Ellis was far below the sentencing range calculated by the probation office, which was between 19.5 and 24.4 years in prison. Those guidelines aren't mandatory, and although Ellis concluded that they were "excessive" and "way out of wack," noting that defendants convicted of similar financial crimes in the past had been sentenced to far less prison time.
Ellis told Manafort that the jury had found him guilty of "very serious crimes," and that in failing to pay taxes and hiding his money overseas, he had stolen from the taxpaying public. He spoke favorably of Manafort at times, noting that aside from the criminal conduct he was convicted of, he'd "lived an otherwise blameless life," and pointed to supportive testimonials submitted to the court by Manafort's wife, daughter, and friends. But the judge also indicated he wasn't wholly impressed with Manafort's statement to the court. Manafort spoke about the effect of the case on his life and his family, and said he acknowledged that his conduct was why he was in court, but he did not offer an apology.
"I was surprised that I did not hear you express regret for engaging in wrongful conduct. In other words, you didn't say, 'I really, really regret not doing what the law requires,'" Ellis said. He added that it wouldn't affect the sentence, but said, "I hope you will reflect on that."
Manafort, who was brought into court in a wheelchair and holding a cane, read his statement to the judge in a flat tone, and did not show emotion when Ellis announced the sentence. For much of the hearing, he sat quietly at a table in between his lawyers, occasionally cracking a smile when Ellis — known for his colorful rhetoric from the bench — made a joke. He thanked the judge for a "fair trial" and asked for his "compassion."
"The person that I have been described as in public is not someone I recognize. To say that I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement," Manafort said. He said later in his statement: "I can say to you that I feel the punishment from this prosecution, already, and know that it was my conduct that brought me here."
Manafort told Ellis that he had "a desire to turn my notoriety into a positive and show the world who I really am."
A federal jury in Virginia convicted Manafort of filing false income tax returns, failing to report foreign bank accounts, and bank fraud. In sentencing memos to Ellis III filed in the weeks leading up to Thursday's hearing, neither side advocated for a specific sentence, but prosecutors had asked for substantial prison time. Manafort's lawyers asked for leniency, citing his health problems, and the fact that he'd taken a guilty plea in his other case and accepted responsibility for many of the same crimes he was charged with in Virginia.
Thursday's sentencing hearing doesn't end Manafort's year-and-a-half-long legal saga. He is due in the US District Court for the District of Columbia on March 13 for sentencing on two counts he pleaded guilty to in September, for conspiring to defraud the United States — a conspiracy that covered many of the same financial crimes the jury convicted him of in Virginia — and conspiring to interfere with witnesses.
Manafort potentially faces even more time behind bars. The judge in his DC case, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, has the option of stacking her sentence on top of Ellis's, or she could run it at the same time. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in his DC case, since each of the two counts carries up to five years in prison.
Manafort's lawyer Kevin Downing asked Ellis on Thursday if the judge would be able to order Manafort's two sentences to run at the same time, but Ellis said that was up to Jackson. The judge said Manafort's lawyers could come back to him later if they found legal precedent that would give Ellis the power to do that.
Manafort was also ordered to pay $24 million in restitution, including $6 million in unpaid taxes. As part of the plea deal in his DC case, Manafort agreed to forfeit real estate worth millions of dollars to the US government. It's not clear yet how much money the government will get from that, though — Manafort owes significant sums to his lenders, and prosecutors are still negotiating how much those financial institutions will get when the properties are sold.
Ellis rejected the government's request to impose a stiff fine in addition to the restitution Manafort will have to pay. Assistant US Attorney Uzo Asonye told the judge that Manafort failed to provide updated financial information before sentencing — a "troubling" situation given that Manafort's case was about him hiding money from the government, Asonye said — making it difficult to calculate the value of his assets. But Asonye said they knew Manafort had two properties in Virginia and Florida that weren't going to be forfeited with equity worth more than $4 million.
Ellis asked Manafort's lawyers why he hadn't provided financial information, and they replied that it was difficult to gather information while Manafort was in jail. In the end, Ellis ordered Manafort to pay an additional $50,000 — the minimum amount recommended by the probation office. Asonye said the government believed Manafort could face a fine of up to $12 million in his DC case. The probation office calculated Manafort's maximum fine in DC at $500,000, but Asonye said they would contest that.
Manafort's lawyer asked the judge to recommend Manafort serve his time in a federal facility in Cumberland, Maryland, and Ellis agreed. Once Manafort is released, he'll spend three years on supervised release. As one condition of release, he'll have to ask permission from the court or the probation office to open a new line of credit. The judge denied a request by the government to require Manafort to ask approval for any financial transaction valued at more than $10,000.
Manafort's lawyer Richard Westling at one point hinted that they might pursue an appeal related to Manafort's case, although he did not offer specifics. Westling told Ellis that they were not going to sign the restitution order so that they could preserve issues for appeal and not create the appearance that they had agreed to it.
Mueller's office first filed charges against Manafort in DC in October 2017. He wasn't charged in Virginia until the following February, but his case there moved ahead on a faster track (the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia is nicknamed the "rocket docket"). He went to trial in July, and the jury returned the guilty verdict in August. The bulk of the charges stemmed from the millions of dollars that Manafort earned doing political consulting work for the government of Ukraine, his failure to report that income to the US government or pay taxes on it, and the bank fraud he committed to bring in more money when the work in Ukraine dried up.
Ellis rejected Manafort's objections to the pre-sentencing report prepared by the probation office, which added what are known as "enhancements" to Manafort's sentencing range because of the sophistication of the scheme, Manafort's role as a leader — he directed his former right-hand man Rick Gates and the various financial professionals handling his money, the judge said — and the amount of money that banks either lost or could have lost as a result of Manafort's fraud. He also agreed with the government that Manafort shouldn't get credit for accepting responsibility (although Manafort went to trial in Virginia, his lawyers argued he should get credit because of his guilty plea in the DC case).
Special counsel prosecutor Greg Andres was dismissive of the value of Manafort's cooperation. He said Manafort told the government information it already knew or that was in documents. Manafort's lawyers said Manafort spent 50 hours talking to the government, but Andres said the amount of time was Manafort's fault because he lied, which meant prosecutors had to spend more time confronting him with conflicting information.
"Mr. Manafort made criminal choices and a jury of his peers found him guilty," Andres said.
Manafort's lawyer Tom Zehnle stressed that defendants in similar tax fraud cases involving money hidden overseas received sentences that could be counted in months, not years. Ellis noted that the US Department of Justice last year changed its policy on sentencing in these sorts of cases to advocate higher sentences, and that they did so for good reasons, but he also said he couldn't ignore history and had to avoid "unwarranted" differences in sentences for similar crimes.
Manafort's case wasn't jaywalking, but it wasn't a drug trafficking case either, Zehnle said. He argued that a higher sentence wasn't needed to deter other people from committing similar crimes because Manafort's case had gotten more public attention than any tax and foreign bank account reporting case "ever."
"We know why," Ellis retorted to the packed courtroom. He later agreed with Zehnle that he didn't need to worry about the public learning about what happened.
Manafort was supposed to go to trial in DC in September, but took a plea deal instead. He won't get any benefit from that agreement at his sentencing next week, though. Jackson ruled in February that Mueller's office had "established by a preponderance of the evidence" that Manafort lied to prosecutors, the FBI, and the grand jury after signing the deal. The plea deal breach meant prosecutors were no longer obliged to support Manafort's push for a lighter sentence.
The jury in Manafort's Virginia case hung on 10 counts, and the plea deal breach meant prosecutors could retry Manafort on those charges in the future, but special counsel prosecutor Andrew Weissmann previously said they have no plans to do that.
Manafort used his sentencing memos in Virginia and DC to attack Mueller and the special counsel's investigation. In the memo he filed in Virginia, he accused Mueller of unfairly vilifying him and of "spreading misinformation." His lawyers repeated their claim that Mueller only went after Manafort for crimes that predated his work on Trump's campaign in 2016 in order to pressure Manafort to cooperate in the Russia investigation and flip on Trump.
“The Special Counsel’s strategy in bringing charges against Mr. Manafort had nothing to do with the Special Counsel’s core mandate — Russian collusion — but was instead designed to ‘tighten the screws’ in an effort to compel Mr. Manafort to cooperate and provide incriminating information about others,” his lawyers wrote, quoting language Ellis had previously used to question the special counsel’s motivations.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, argued in their sentencing memo in Virginia that Manafort should receive a sentence that reflected "the seriousness of these crimes, and serve to both deter Manafort and others from engaging in such conduct."
"In the end, Manafort acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law, and deprived the federal government and various financial institutions of millions of dollars," prosecutors wrote.
Manafort has been in jail since June, when prosecutors first accused him of trying to interfere with potential witnesses in his case. Jackson ordered him held pending trial. In arguing for leniency, Manafort's lawyers said that the detention had taken a toll on Manafort's physical and psychological health. Mueller's office countered that Manafort failed to show why the federal Bureau of Prisons couldn't handle his medical needs, and noted that Jackson previously concluded that Manafort's lawyers failed to detail his ailments with any specificity.