Ex-Trump aide Paul Manafort considered himself above the law: Prosecutors
Paul Manafort orchestrated a multimillion-dollar conspiracy to evade US tax, leaving behind a trail of lies as he lived a lavish lifestyle, prosecutors said as they laid out their case against the former Trump campaign chairman. Manafort's trial is the first arising from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into potential ties between Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russia. Here's more.
Prosecutor Uzo Asonye told the jury yesterday that Manafort considered himself above the law as he funneled millions of dollars through offshore accounts. "A man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him, not tax law, not banking law," Asonye said as he sketched out the evidence gathered by special counsel Mueller's team in Manafort's bank fraud and tax evasion trial.
"That secret income was used to pay for personal expenses such as a $21,000 watch, a $15,000 jacket made of ostrich, and more than $6 million worth of real estate paid for in cash," Asonye said.
Manafort relied on a team of financial experts to keep track of the millions of dollars he earned from his Ukrainian political work and to ensure that money was being properly reported, said attorney Thomas Zehnle, representing Manafort. Zehnle said Manafort especially trusted business associate Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty in Mueller's investigation and is now the government's star witness.
Zehnle warned jurors that Gates could not be trusted and was the type of witness who would say anything so that he could to save himself from a lengthy prison sentence and a crippling financial penalty.
The trial, decided by a jury of six men and six women who were seated after a brief selection process on Tuesday, is expected to last several weeks. After opening statements, the jury heard from the government's first witness, Democratic strategist Tad Devine, who testified about his collaborations with Manafort on behalf of Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions.
Devine testified that Manafort ran a tightly disciplined, professional campaign that contributed to his candidate's victory.
Prime allegations are that Manafort funneled more than $60 million in proceeds from his Ukrainian political consulting through offshore accounts and hid a "significant" portion of it from the IRS. He created "bogus" loans, falsified documents, and lied to his tax preparer and bookkeeper to conceal the money, which he obtained from Ukrainian oligarchs through a series of shell company transfers, prosecutors said.
Zehnle said there was no evidence that Manafort ever intended to deceive the IRS. He denied allegations that Manafort had tried to conceal his earnings by storing money in bank accounts in Cyprus, saying that arrangement was not of Manafort's doing but was instead the preferred method of payment of the supporters of the pro-Russia Ukrainian political party who were paying his consulting fees.
Earlier, US District Judge TS Ellis III interrupted the prosecutor during his opening statement to caution him against suggesting there was something criminal about being a multimillionaire. "It isn't a crime to have a lot of money and be profligate in your spending," he said.