Paul Manafort, who once served as President Trump’s campaign chairman, was sentenced to nearly four years in prison Thursday for cheating on his taxes and bank fraud — a far lesser sentence than the roughly 20 years he had faced under federal sentencing guidelines.
Apparently aware that he might be criticized for not imposing a longer prison term, Ellis told a packed courtroom in Alexandria, Va. that anyone who didn’t think the punishment was tough enough should “go and spend a day, a week in jail or in the federal penitentiary. He has to spend 47 months.”
Wearing a green jail uniform that said “ALEXANDRIA INMATE” on the back, Manafort, 69, sat in a wheelchair for the entire hearing and did not visibly react when the sentence was read by the judge. At times while the judge spoke, Manafort closed his eyes.
Prosecutors have painted Manafort as an incorrigible cheat who must be made to understand the seriousness of his wrongdoing. Manafort contends he is mere collateral damage in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.
At a trial last year, Manafort was found guilty of hiding millions he made lobbying on behalf of Ukrainian politicians in overseas bank accounts, then falsifying his finances to get loans when his patrons lost power. Prosecutors highlighted his lavish lifestyle, saying his crimes were used to pay for high-end clothes and multiple properties.
Ellis said the sentence he imposed was more in line with others who had been convicted of similar crimes.
The judge noted that he must consider the entirety of Manafort’s life when issuing a sentence, saying letters show Manafort has been “a good friend” and a “generous person” but that that “can’t erase the criminal activity.” Manafort’s tax crimes, the judge said, were “a theft of money from everyone who pays taxes.”
Ellis expressed some sympathy for the GOP consultant, who had worked on the presidential campaigns of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, becoming a Washington insider and high-flying consultant for hire.
“He’s lived an otherwise blameless life,” Ellis said. The judged noted Manafort has no past criminal history and “earned the admiration of a number of people” who wrote letters to the court.
Before the sentence was imposed, Manafort asked the judge to consider how much he has already suffered.
“The last two years have been the most difficult years for my family and I,” Manafort said. “To say that I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement.”
Speaking from his chair, he asked for “compassion,” adding, “I know it is my conduct that has brought me here.”
The disgraced consultant thanked the judge for “the fairness of the trial you conducted.”
Manafort said the “media frenzy” surrounding the case had taken a toll on him and that “my life is professionally and financially in shambles.”
But, he added, he hopes “to turn the notoriety into a positive and show who I really am.”
The worst pain, he said, “is the pain my family is feeling,” adding that he had drawn strength from the “outpouring of support” he had received.
The judge later told Manafort: “I was surprised that I did not hear you express regret for engaging in wrong conduct.” That did not affect his sentence, “but I hope you will reflect on it and that your regret will be that you did not comply with the law,” Ellis said.
Manafort has already spent nine months in jail — meaning the sentence imposed Thursday could end in less than three years, with an additional reduction for good behavior. Manafort was also ordered to pay a fine of $50,000.
But he still faces sentencing for related conspiracy charges in a case in D.C. federal court — a case in which he could receive an additional 10-year prison term. Manafort is set to be sentenced in that case next week, and that judge will decide if the sentences will run simultaneously, or staggered.
Manafort’s trial documented his career as an international lobbyist whose profligate spending habits were part of the evidence showing he’d cheated the Internal Revenue Service out of $6 million by hiding $16 million in income.
At the outset of the hearing, Ellis addressed the larger special counsel investigation, saying Manafort was not convicted “for anything to do with Russian colluding in the presidential election.”
But the judge also rejected Manafort’s attorneys’ claims that the lack of any such evidence undermined the case, saying he had considered that issue at the beginning of the case. “I concluded that it was legitimate” for the special counsel to charge Manafort with financial crimes, Ellis said.
Sentencing guidelines in the Virginia case had called for Manafort to serve between 19½ and 24 years in prison, after a jury found him guilty of eight charges and deadlocked on 10 others.
Legal experts had generally expected Ellis to sentence somewhere below the guideline range, but some were surprised by how far he went.
“It’s a low sentence,” said Timothy Belevetz, a former prosecutor in the Eastern District of Virginia. “Four years is nothing to sneeze at, but I think it is a little surprising because it’s such a big variance from the guidelines.”
Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, said he expected such a sentence.
“Given the age and the health of this defendant, this is the kind of sentence that you can generally expect in a white-collar prosecution,” Mintz said. “The sentencing guidelines and the request by the government for 19 to 24 years was something the judge was never going to seriously entertain, and I think what we saw here was a recognition that even this sentence could well be a life sentence for Mr. Manafort.”
Manafort’s attorneys noted he spent 50 hours in proffer sessions with the special counsel for his plea agreement in the D.C. case. But prosecutor Greg Andres said Manafort’s purported cooperation was worthless — he either told prosecutors things they already knew, or told falsehoods.
“He did not provide valuable cooperation,” Andres said. “He lied.”
Manafort’s lawyer Kevin Downing told a crowd of reporters outside the courthouse that his client “finally got the chance to speak.”
Manafort’s career as a political consultant stretches back decades. He joined the Trump campaign in March 2016, and left it five months later as questions arose about his work for Ukrainian political figures.
Prosecutors have said in court filings that Manafort “blames everyone from the special counsel’s office to his Ukrainian clients for his own criminal choices.”
Manafort has argued in court filings that while he is genuinely contrite, he has also been punished quite severely before sentencing. Until he was jailed by his D.C. judge for witness tampering, he was a “relatively healthy” man, his lawyers say; he now suffers from gout and can walk only with a cane. An “extraordinary and largely successful career” has ended in ignominy. He has been in solitary confinement for the past nine months. He has given up $15 million in assets, including his mansion in the Hamptons, a brownstone in Brooklyn and three condos in Manhattan.
All this happened, his lawyers say, not because he broke the law but because he worked for Trump and was caught up in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“Unable to establish that Mr. Manafort engaged in any such collusion, the special counsel charged him . . . with crimes . . . unrelated to the 2016 campaign or any collusion with the Russian government,” defense attorneys wrote in a memo to the court.
Ellis repeatedly voiced similar sentiments in the run-up to trial, saying prosecutors wanted Manafort to “sing” against Trump and were using the financial charges to “turn the screws and get the information you really want.” During the trial, he needled prosecutors for highlighting Manafort’s lavish lifestyle and the unsavoriness of the Ukrainian politicians who made it possible.
Prosecutors have pushed back, noting that Manafort was under investigation for years before Mueller’s appointment.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington is scheduled to sentence Manafort in his other case.