Jury deliberations under way in fraud trial of Paul Manafort


ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Jurors began their deliberations Thursday in the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who prosecutors say earned $60 million advising Russia-backed politicians in Ukraine, hid much of it from the IRS and then lied to banks to get loans when the money dried up.

Manafort’s defense countered that he wasn’t culpable because he left the particulars of his finances to others.

The financial fraud trial calls on the dozen jurors to follow the complexities of foreign bank accounts and shell companies, loan regulations and tax rules. It exposed details about the lavish lifestyle of the onetime political insider, including a $15,000 jacket made of ostrich leather and $900,000 spent at a boutique retailer in New York paid via international wire transfer.

It’s the first courtroom test of the ongoing Russia probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller. While allegations of collusion are still being investigated, evidence of bank fraud and tax evasion unearthed during the probe has cast doubt on the integrity of Trump’s closest advisers during the campaign.

Peter Carr, spokesman for the special counsel’s office, declined to comment.

“When you follow the trail of Mr. Manafort’s money, it is littered with lies,” prosecutor Greg Andres said in his final argument, asking the jury to convict Manafort of 18 felony counts.

In his defense, Manafort’s attorneys told jurors to question the entirety of the prosecution’s case as they sought to tarnish the credibility of Manafort’s longtime protege — and government witness — Rick Gates.

Defense attorney Richard Westling noted that Manafort employed a team of accountants, bookkeepers and tax preparers, a fact he said showed his client wasn’t trying to hide anything. Westling also painted the prosecutions’ case as consisting of cherry-picked evidence that doesn’t show jurors the full picture.

“None of the banks involved reported Manafort’s activities as suspicious,” he said, saying Manafort’s dealings only drew scrutiny when Mueller’s investigators started asking questions.

Westling questioned whether prosecutors had proven Manafort willfully violated the law, pointing to documents and emails that the defense lawyer said may well show numerical errors or sloppy bookkeeping or even false information on Manafort’s tax returns but no overt fraud.

During the prosecution’s arguments, jurors took notes as Manafort primarily directed his gaze at a computer screen where documents were shown. The screen showed emails written by Manafort that contained some of the most damning evidence that he was aware of the fraud and not simply a victim of underlings who managed his financial affairs.

Andres highlighted one email in which he said Manafort sent an inflated statement of his income to bank officers reviewing a loan application. He highlighted another in which Manafort acknowledged his control of one of more than 30 holding companies in Cyprus that prosecutors say he used to funnel the more than $60 million he earned advising politicians in Ukraine.

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