Paul Manafort collected more than $65 million in foreign accounts for his Ukrainian political work from 2010-2014 and spent more than $15 million in the same period on real estate, landscaping, home improvement and luxury items like his ostrich and python jackets, an FBI witness told jurors on Wednesday.
The eye-popping figures summed up a key portion of the prosecution’s case following the conclusion of Manafort deputy Rick Gates’ dramatic three-day testimony, during which he detailed how he and Manafort had 15 undisclosed foreign bank accounts and had falsified financial documents. He also admitted to stealing money from Manafort and having one extramarital affair.
Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, is charged with 18 counts of tax and banking crimes and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Gates’ testimony is among the most important of the trial — pitting the longtime right-hand man against his boss face-to-face for the first time publicly since Gates flipped in February and pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to investigators. Since then, Gates has assisted special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
FBI forensic accountant Morgan Magionos brought Manafort’s fashion tastes back to the spotlight.
He showed jurors how the FBI had painstakingly traced wire transfers from foreign bank accounts to retailers in the US who sold Manafort expensive goods — including the custom men’s clothier Alan Couture, where Manafort bought jackets made of ostrich and python skin that each cost five figures.
And IRS agent Michael Welch said Manafort used his foreign income for purchases that included a yacht, horseback riding, Italian villa rental and cosmetic dentistry.
The additional purchases cited during Welch’s testimony included $132,000 for the business International Yacht Collection, $45,000 for a cosmetic dentist north of Palm Beach. He made other payments to an Italian villa vacation home rental agency and a horseback riding academy in New Jersey.
Gates’ credibility on trial
The heart of Manafort’s defense is to undermine Gates’ credibility with the jury and pin the blame on him for Manafort’s alleged crimes, and his attorney implied Wednesday morning that Gates has more to hide.
Manafort’s attorney Kevin Downing asked whether Gates had four extramarital affairs — and not just one abroad 10 years ago — implying that Gates might have lied to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team and could put his plea deal in jeopardy.
The question was cut off and Judge T.S. Ellis had a private conversation with the attorneys, out of earshot of the jury. Downing had said he wanted to ask the question because it spoke to whether Gates had lied to Mueller’s office, and whether Gates’ plea agreement would still be valid.
But Downing wasn’t able to re-ask Gates about four extramarital affairs. Instead, he asked Gates more broadly: “Does your secret life span over many years?”
Gates responded yes. “I made many mistakes over many years,” he said.
Gates’ previous testimony underscored how much Gates knew about Manafort’s wire transfers and the lies other witnesses have said Manafort told the IRS, tax preparers and his bookkeeper. But Gates’ testimony also revealed he was a deeply disreputable co-conspirator as Manafort’s underling.
Gates served as a deputy for Manafort’s political consulting business, and then as his deputy on the Trump campaign in 2016. While Trump has not played a significant role in the trial, Gates testified on Tuesday that after the election, Manafort recommended a banker who had loaned him money to be Trump’s Army secretary.
Prosecutor Greg Andres asked Gates on Wednesday whether Mueller’s team had told him how to answer questions.
“The only answer I was told was to tell the truth,” Gates replied.
Andres also revisited the embezzlement Gates committed against Manafort. Previously, Gates revealed to the court and to the Special Counsel’s Office that he had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort out of the foreign accounts when he faked expense reports. Andres prompted Gates to point out where the money came from that he had stolen.
“The Ukrainians,” Gates said, adding a layer to his statement Tuesday that he had stolen “Mr. Manafort’s money.”
Signing foreign documents
Manafort attorney Richard Westling also attempted to sow doubt in Magionos’s testimony regarding the authenticity of the Manafort signature on various documents that were presented.
“We can’t say sitting here today who signed Mr. Manafort’s name to the Cyprus bank accounts,” Westling said to Magionos.
She confirmed that she did not know who signed his name, only that she has to rely on documents provided by the financial institutions. At one point during this signature comparing exercise, Magionos observed, “It looks a bit different, but I’m also not a hand-writing expert.”
While some of the documents shown in court Wednesday listed Manafort’s and Gates’ names, others showed how a Cypriot law firm run by “Dr. K,” Kypros Chrysostomides, oversaw Manafort’s foreign accounts.
Prosecutors revealed in court two emails Manafort had sent telling others they would receive payments from the foreign accounts.
Funds “should be in your account today. Coming from Global Endeavor LTD,” Manafort wrote to one person, citing one of the foreign accounts that his defense has tried to distance him from in the trial.
In another email, Manafort told Dr. K’s law firm to make five wire transfers to pay for thousands of dollars worth of clothing from Alan Couture. “Pls (sic) make the five transfers listed below from the Leviathan account and confirm to me when completed,” Manafort wrote.
Prosecution, judge clash again
Ellis and Andres continued to butt heads Wednesday, after Ellis once again reminded the prosecutors they should wrap their case quickly.
“As a concession to the shortness of life, we need to get it done,” Ellis said, after Andres implored him to allow the prosecutors to show the jury documents an FBI agent reviewed. “Now we need to bring it to a close, and it’s lunchtime.”
Andres said his side has focused sharply on the accusations they need to prove. The jury had not yet returned to the courtroom.