Paul Manafort, who once served as President Trump’s campaign chairman, was sentenced to nearly four years in prison Thursday for cheating on his taxes and bank fraud — a spectacular fall for a once high-flying political consultant who told the judge he is now “humiliated and ashamed.”
Manafort had faced up to 24 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, but U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis called that calculation “excessive” and sentenced him instead to 47 months.
Ellis said the sentence he imposed was more in line with others who had been convicted on similar crimes.
“The government cannot sweep away the history of all these previous sentences” for similar crimes, the judge said.
Subscribe to the Post Most newsletter: Today’s most popular stories on The Washington Post
Ellis noted that he must consider the entirety of Manafort’s life when issuing a sentence, noting Manafort has been “a good friend” and a “generous person” but that “can’t erase the criminal activity.” Manafort’s tax crimes, the judge said, were “a theft of money from everyone who pays taxes.”
But the judge expressed some sympathy for Manafort, a 69-year-old GOP consultant who worked on the presidential campaigns of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
“He’s lived an otherwise blameless life,” Ellis said. The judged noted Manafort has no past criminal history and “earned the admiration of a number of people” who wrote letters to the court support Manafort.
Wearing a green jail uniform with the words “ALEXANDRIA INMATE” in block letters on the back, Manafort entered the courtroom in a wheelchair.
“The last two years have been the most difficult years for my family and I,” Manafort told the judge. “To say that I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement.”
He asked the judge “for compassion,” adding, “I know it is my conduct that has brought me here.”
Speaking from his chair, Manafort did not apologize for his crimes, but thanked the judge for how he had conducted the trial.
“I appreciate the fairness of the trial you conducted,” he said. “My life is professionally and financially in shambles.”
Manafort said the “media frenzy” surrounding the case had taken a toll on him, but that he hopes “to turn the notoriety into a positive and show who I really am.”
The worst pain, he said, “is the pain my family is feeling, ” adding that he drew strength from the “outpouring of support” he had received.
The hearing came just days before Manafort is set to be sentenced for related conspiracy charges in a case in D.C. federal court.
Manafort’s trial last year documented his career as an international lobbyist whose profligate spending habits were part of the evidence showing he’d cheated the Internal Revenue Service out of $6 million by hiding $16 million in income.
Prosecutors painted the former Trump campaign chairman as an incorrigible cheat who must be made to understand the seriousness of his wrongdoing. Manafort contends he is mere collateral damage in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.
At the outset of the hearing, Ellis addressed the larger special counsel investigation, saying Manafort was not convicted “for anything to do with Russian colluding in the presidential election.”
But the judge also rejected Manafort’s attorneys claims that the lack of any such evidence undermined the case, saying he had considered that issue at the beginning of the case. “I concluded that it was legitimate” for the special counsel to charge Manafort with financial crimes, Ellis said.
Sentencing guidelines in the Virginia case had called for Manafort to serve somewhere between 19½ and 24 years in prison, after a jury found him guilty of eight charges and deadlocked on 10 others.
The first skirmish in the sentencing hearing came when Manafort’s attorneys argued with federal prosecutors over whether he deserved any sentenced reduction for “acceptance of responsibility.”
Manafort’s attorneys noted he spent 50 hours in proffer sessions with the special counsel for his plea agreement in the D.C. case. But prosecutor Greg Andres argued that those details weren’t relevant in the Virginia matter because Manafort chose to fight the Virginia case and because a federal judge in D.C. found that Manafort lied after he had agreed to cooperate with the government.
Manafort faces another reckoning next week in the case in D.C., in which he could be handed a prison term of up to 10 years.
Prosecutors had also urged Ellis to impose a serious fine on Manafort, saying he still owns two properties with $4 million in equity and has securities and a life insurance policy worth millions of dollars more.
“He does have significant assets,” prosecutor Uzo Asonye said. Asonye said he couldn’t give an exact number because Manafort has not given his financial information to probation officers — which he called “particularly troubling” given the nature of the case.
Manafort defense attorney Richard Westling countered that there is “not evidence he has the ability to pay” a significant fine. He owes up to $24 million in restitution, depending on what losses the banks he defrauded are able to recoup through the sale of his properties.
As for why Manafort hasn’t offered financial information, Westling said, “I can only say that is a very difficult process given his incarceration.”
His attorneys say Manafort is “truly remorseful” for what he did — illegally lobbying on behalf of Ukrainian politicians, hiding the millions he made from taxes in overseas bank accounts, falsifying his finances to get loans when his patrons lost power and then urging potential witnesses to lie on his behalf when he was caught.
At the same time, Manafort, who made his name and fortune testing the legal limits of the Washington influence industry, argues that for crossing them he should be able to pay with money rather than years of his life. Nine months in solitary confinement and under a glaring media spotlight have already left him severely compromised, his lawyers said.
Manafort’s career as a political consultant stretches back decades. He joined the Trump campaign in March 2016, and left it five months later as questions arose about his work for Ukrainian political figures.
“The Special Counsel’s attempt to vilify Mr. Manafort as a lifelong and irredeemable felon is beyond the pale and grossly overstates the facts before this Court,” his lawyers wrote.
They said it was Manafort’s Ukrainian backers who chose to pay through opaque bank accounts in Cyprus. And Manafort maintains that those millions were not for a “pro-Putin politician” but to “distance Ukraine from Putin.”
It’s the same line he used to successfully rebrand the corrupt Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych as a democratic reformer and steer him to that country’s presidency in 2010. Manafort called it the “most satisfying” campaign of his career.
The funding that made such satisfaction possible came from Rinat Akhmetov, a coal and steel baron introduced to Manafort by a close Putin ally named Oleg Deripaska. Helping consult was Manafort’s longtime Russian associate Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the FBI has assessed as having ties to Putin’s intelligence service. Kilimnik has denied any connection to Russian intelligence.
After his victory, Yanukovych went on to put his rival in prison and pull out of an agreement with the European Union. Amid widespread 2014 protests over that decision and his government’s corruption, Yanukovych fled to Russia and has remained in asylum there ever since.
It was after Yanukovych’s fall that Manafort admits he found himself suddenly short on cash; he began lying to banks to secure loans his finances were too shaky to merit.
But he argues he would have paid those banks back if not for the special counsel, which froze his cash and left him in default.
Prosecutors have pushed back, noting that Manafort had already been sued for failing to keep up with a $3.9 million loan before the indictment.
“The defendant blames everyone from the special counsel’s office to his Ukrainian clients for his own criminal choices,” they wrote. “Manafort’s effort to shift the blame to others—as he did at trial—is not consistent with acceptance of responsibility or a mitigating factor.”
Manafort argues that while he is genuinely contrite, he has also been punished quite severely before sentencing. Until he was jailed by his D.C. judge for witness tampering, he was a “relatively healthy” man, his lawyers say; he now suffers from gout and can walk only with a cane. An “extraordinary and largely successful career” has ended in ignominy. He has been in solitary confinement for the past nine months. He has given up $15 million in assets, including his mansion in the Hamptons, a brownstone in Brooklyn and three condos in Manhattan.
All this happened, his lawyers say, not because he broke the law but because he worked for Trump and was caught up in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“Unable to establish that Mr. Manafort engaged in any such collusion, the special counsel charged him . . . with crimes . . . unrelated to the 2016 campaign or any collusion with the Russian government,” defense attorneys wrote in a memo to the court.
Ellis repeatedly voiced similar sentiments in the run-up to trial, saying prosecutors wanted Manafort to “sing” against Trump and were using the financial charges to “turn the screws and get the information you really want.” During the trial he needled prosecutors for highlighting Manafort’s lavish lifestyle and the unsavoriness of the Ukrainian politicians who made it possible.
Prosecutors have pushed back, noting that Manafort was under investigation for years before Mueller’s appointment.
“In addition to a lack of remorse, Manafort has his facts wrong,” they wrote in a Tuesday filing. “He was being investigated by prosecutors in this district and the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice prior to the May 2017 appointment of the Special Counsel.”
In letters to the court, friends and family wrote that Manafort was generous with his money, his connections and his time. He nursed his wife back to health after a brain injury and supported two daughters and a niece through their careers. When his wife’s cousin fell in love with an Iraqi street painter she met in Italy who was in danger of deportation, Manafort helped the young man get a green card and a job in the United States.
“I can honestly say he is one of the finest and most caring people I have ever known,” one longtime friend wrote.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson could add up to 10 years when Manafort is sentenced in Washington. That hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.