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Manafort Pleads Not Guilty to Tax, Bank Fraud Charges -- Update

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03/09/2018 | 01:16am CEST

By Aruna Viswanatha

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, pleaded not guilty to tax and bank fraud charges in federal court in Virginia on Thursday, setting up the prospect of back-to-back trials stretching through the summer into Mr. Manafort's business dealings.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis scheduled the trial to begin on July 10. Prosecutors asked for the trial to come before a related trial Mr. Manafort is set to face in Washington in September, while Mr. Manafort requested a November date.

Judge Ellis also placed Mr. Manafort under home-confinement requirements in addition to those imposed by the Washington court, including an additional bracelet monitor, saying Mr. Manafort had substantial assets and ties abroad. "He is a risk of flight," the judge said.

Mr. Manafort sat quietly in court while his lawyer, Kevin Downing, spoke on his behalf. "Not guilty, your honor," Mr. Downing said when asked how Mr. Manafort pleaded, adding that Mr. Manafort wanted a jury trial.

Mr. Manafort's plea came days after his former business partner, Richard Gates, pleaded guilty in connection with the Washington case and agreed to cooperate in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Mr. Downing later said he planned to file a motion in the Virginia case arguing that Mr. Mueller overstepped his authority in charging Mr. Manafort in connection with activity unrelated to the 2016 election.

The potential for two trials delving into the background of one of Mr. Trump's former top advisers -- including his work for Ukraine's government and his alleged financial troubles after that work dried up -- could mean weeks of public disclosures during the heart of the 2018 midterm campaigns.

The Virginia trial would be the first to emerge from indictments generated by Mr. Mueller's office, which has publicly filed seven cases to date. Five defendants, including Mr. Gates, have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from Mr. Mueller's probe.

Mr. Mueller's office accused Messrs. Gates and Manafort in Washington in October of laundering millions of dollars in income generated by their consulting work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine from 2008 through 2016, and failing to file reports on the lobbying work and on foreign bank accounts they controlled. Mr. Gates was an adviser to Mr. Trump's campaign and Mr. Manafort served briefly as the campaign's chairman before stepping down in August 2016.

In the Washington case, Mr. Manafort is charged with conspiring to defraud the Treasury Department, conspiring to launder money and failing to file reports of his foreign lobbying efforts. He pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Another set of charges -- including tax fraud and failure to file reports on foreign bank accounts, which prosecutors allege Mr. Manafort committed between 2010 and 2014 -- were filed in Virginia, where Mr. Manafort lives. That is also where Mr. Manafort has been charged with bank fraud for allegedly using false statements to obtain $25 million in loans.

Prosecutors from the special counsel's office said they had sought Mr. Manafort's agreement to consolidate the cases in Washington, but he declined. Andrew Weissmann, a senior prosecutor from the office, said he expected the Virginia trial to take between eight and 10 days, with 20 to 25 witnesses.

Under sentencing guidelines, prosecutors said Mr. Manafort faces between 8 and 10 years in prison if convicted of the tax fraud charges in Virginia. He would face an additional 12 to 15 to years for a conviction on the charges in the Washington case, prosecutors said.

Mr. Manafort was released on a $10 million bond and placed on home detention on the Washington charges. Judge Ellis asked for a similar package to be presented to him as well.

Prosecutors said in a February 28 court filing they had turned over to Mr. Manafort's lawyers various documents in preparation for the trial. Those documents included foreign bank records for accounts in Cyprus and in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, domestic financial records, emails and other documents.

Write to Aruna Viswanatha at [email protected]

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