Saturday, June 23, 2018
Politics

Paul Manafort pleads not guilty to tax and fraud charges in Virginia court

President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager pleaded not guilty to tax and fraud charges in federal court in Virginia on Thursday, as he appeared before a judge in the second criminal case brought against him by the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

During the hearing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Judge T.S. Ellis III put Paul Manafort on home confinement, requiring him to wear a GPS monitoring device, and set a trial for July 10. Jurors will hear from 20 to 25 witnesses over a trial that will last eight to 10 days, prosecutors said.

Manafort last week also pleaded not guilty in a related case in Washington, D.C., where he is set to go to trial Sept. 17. Manafort lives in Virginia and was indicted there in February.

Ellis called the Virginia case "complex" but noted that it "doesn’t have anything to do with the Russians or Russian interference in the election."

Defense attorney Kevin Downing responded that he planned soon to file motions making that very point and arguing that special counsel Robert Mueller III has no authority to bring these charges.

Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said in court that the special counsel’s office has already turned over all relevant documents to Manafort’s attorneys and was ready to go to trial soon.

"I don’t think it’s complicated," Weissmann said of the case.

Downing disagreed, pointing to the numerous offshore accounts and business interests involved.

"Having had the benefit of trying criminal tax cases for 15 years, I think it is complicated," he said. He had hoped for the trial to be in November, he said, after Manafort faces a jury in D.C.

Manafort’s former business partner Rick Gates has pleaded guilty in Washington, D.C., to conspiracy and lying to the FBI. At the request of prosecutors, charges have been dropped against Gates in Virginia, though they could be resurrected should he fail to live up to a plea agreement, which requires him to offer information on any matters Mueller deems relevant.

Both indictments accuse Manafort of hiding the work he did for and the money he made from a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

In Washington, Manafort faces counts of conspiracy to launder more than $30 million, making false statements, failing to follow lobbying disclosure laws and working as an unregistered foreign agent.

In Virginia, he is accused of hiding foreign bank accounts, falsifying his income taxes and failing to report foreign bank accounts.

Manafort also faces bank fraud charges in Virginia not directly related to his work in Ukraine. After his business there dried up, according to prosecutors, Manafort fraudulently secured more than $20 million in loans in part by using his real estate as collateral.

Prosecutors had offered to combine the indictments in D.C., but Manafort refused to do so. Downing suggested Thursday that Manafort would like to face all the charges in Virginia.

"We’re trying," Downing said, to move tax conspiracy charges from D.C. to Virginia.

Downing declined to comment after court, saying he had already "had my three minutes."

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