He oversaw the plea and sentencing of American Taliban supporter John Walker Lindh as well as a case involving government secrets leaked to a pro-Israel lobbying group and an Israeli official.
Born in Bogota, Colombia, Ellis served as an aviator in the U.S. Navy and has an undergraduate degree from Princeton and law degrees from Harvard and Oxford. He is a fan of astronomy and reads physics books in his spare time, according to a former law firm colleague.
He often draws on his personal history in court, telling amusing and occasionally rambling anecdotes about his life and career. He is tough on lawyers who come to court unprepared and often intervenes during trials with his own sharp questions.
In sentencing he preaches personal responsibility, telling defendants they determine their own path with the choices they make. But when he feels a criminal has accepted responsibility and shown remorse, he is known for showing compassion.
As chief of the Justice Department’s fraud section before the Russia probe began, he directed the case involving Volkswagen’s diesel emissions and a push to root out bribery of foreign governments by U.S. companies.
He worked under special counsel Robert. S. Mueller III as general counsel for the FBI, overseeing an attempt to fine tech companies that did not comply with wiretap orders.
Greg Andres — Andres is a white-collar criminal defense attorney at the firm Davis Polk & Wardwell. He previously supervised fraud, organized crime and foreign bribery prosecutions at the Justice Department, including a $7 billion Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Texas financier R. Allen Stanford.
Like Andrew Weissmann, Andres served as a line prosecutor in New York City, taking on international banks and local mafia figures, one of whom tried to have him killed.
Brandon Van Grack — Van Grack is a national security division prosecutor in the Department of Justice who, before joining the special counsel’s office, was detailed to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. He prosecuted a man from Kosovo who stole U.S. service members’ information and gave it to the Islamic State, the first time a hacker was convicted of helping a terrorist group. He also helped convict spies for Syria and China while working in the DOJ’s counterespionage division.
Michael R. Dreeben — A deputy solicitor general, Dreeben is known for his encyclopedic knowledge of criminal law. Among issues he has argued before the Supreme Court, where he is only the second attorney to appear more than 100 times: law enforcement access to cellphone records, sentencing disparities for crack and powder cocaine, DNA collection from people arrested for serious crimes, when it is legal for police to put a GPS device on a car, when online threats are criminal, and whether a U.S. company can be compelled to turn over data stored overseas.
He was involved in another politically charged case brought in the Eastern District of Virginia: an unsuccessful effort to uphold the fraud conviction of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell.
Scott Meisler — A criminal appellate lawyer at the DOJ, he defended before the Supreme Court that a 6½ year prison sentence given to a Mexican man for returning to the United States after being deported was legal. He also helped defend the conviction of a Washington state man who possessed child pornography that was found through Naval intelligence surveillance deemed illegal.
Adam C. Jed — Jed is an appellate lawyer from the Justice Department’s civil division. A former clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, he defended the Obama administration’s contraception mandate and a failed attempt by the Justice Department to seize the property of a marijuana dispensary in California.
Jed won a DOJ award for exceptional service in 2014 for his work on a team implementing the Supreme Court decision granting full federal recognition of legally married gay couples.
Kevin Downing — Downing spent 15 years in the tax division of the Justice Department before leaving, in the words of Judge T.S. Ellis III, “for the siren call of money.” He convicted three people involved in setting up illegal tax shelters at the accounting firm KPMG and led a probe into the Swiss bank UBS, for which he received the department’s highest honor for trial attorneys: the John Marshall Award.
He was a key leader of a 2008 Justice Department effort to go after foreign bank accounts controlled by Americans, a change in enforcement that probably made it easier to go after Manafort.
At the firm Miller & Chevalier, he defended financial institutions and advised them on tax compliance. Downing left the D.C. firm after taking on Manafort as a client.
Thomas Zehnle — Like Kevin Downing, Zehnle worked as a federal tax prosecutor before going into white-collar defense law; they overlapped at the Department of Justice for seven years. He won an acquittal in 2013 for an attorney in a tax shelter conspiracy case involving KPMG.
“The Department of Justice conviction rate on these cases is more than 90%,” he said in a statement at the time. “It is rare to win one, so when you do, it means something special.”
Zehnle worked at Bryan Cave before joining Miller & Chevalier in 2011. Like Downing, he left shortly after being hired by Manafort.
Jay R. Nanavati — Nanavati served as a prosecutor in Fairfax County and in the Justice Department’s tax division before joining the firm BakerHostetler and then moving to Kostelanetz & Fink. He prosecuted a complicated $200 million tax fraud scheme in Utah involving thoroughbred horses and gas exploration. As a defense attorney, he successfully defended a Kansas businessman in a tax fraud case, although the man’s wife was convicted of tax evasion.
Before joining the Manafort legal team this year, Nanavati commented on the case in an interview with The Washington Post, saying it was striking how many people who worked for Manafort provided evidence against him.
Brian Ketcham — Ketcham works with Nanavati at Kostelanetz & Fink, focused on criminal and civil tax defense. He represented an 83-year-old Florida man and the owner of a fancy French restaurant in New York who both admitted to hiding money in Swiss bank accounts.
Richard Westling — A lawyer at the firm Epstein Becker & Green who specializes in health-care cases, Westling was a prosecutor in the New Orleans U.S. Attorney’s Office and in the tax division of the Justice Department. He at one point represented a Louisiana judge accused of bribery — the last federal official impeached by the U.S. House.
Witnesses and key figures
Richard Gates — Manafort’s former business partner has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to the FBI and is expected to testify against his former colleague at trial.
Gates started his career as an intern at the aggressive, controversial political consulting firm Manafort co-founded, working closely with Republican lobbyist Rick Davis. Gates left the firm to work for companies in the lottery and gaming business, former partner Charlie Black has said. But he reunited with Davis and Manafort at their new firm in 2006 and became, in the words of his indictment, Manafort’s “right-hand man.” Manafort had just begun doing political consulting work for Viktor Yanukovych, an aspiring Ukrainian politician with ties to Russian oligarchs.
Gates admitted in D.C. federal court that he funneled money from Yanukovych and his party through overseas accounts for himself and Manafort, while hiding the accounts to avoid paying taxes.
Once Yanukovych won the presidency, Gates admitted, he schemed with Manafort to lobby for the Ukrainian government in the United States without registering as foreign agents. He recruited two firms to lobby for Ukraine, directing the campaign in detail, while claiming that their work was actually for an independent nonprofit organization called the European Center for a Modern Ukraine. In fact, Gates knew that organization was set up by the Ukrainian government.
He also worked to recruit former European politicians to advocate for Ukraine, the “Hapsburg group.”
Charges against Gates in Alexandria were dropped pursuant to his plea agreement. But prosecutors say that when the Ukraine work dried up, Gates helped Manafort falsify his financial documents to get approval for loans.
When Manafort joined the Trump campaign, he brought Gates on as his deputy. Along with Manafort, Gates was included on emails discussing an effort by foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos to broker a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When Manafort resigned amid news reports about his work for Yanukovych, Gates stayed on, working as a liaison between the Republican National Committee and the Trump operation. He worked on the inauguration and for a pro-Trump advocacy group called America First Policies. He was forced out after The Post reported on his ongoing White House access. Tom Barrack, one of Trump’s close friends, then hired Gates as a consultant to his real estate investment company.
He was fired when he was indicted in D.C. federal court last October. Since then, Gates, who prosecutors say initially lied to law enforcement about his Ukraine work, had been cooperating fully and has handed over his electronic devices for their case, according to a defense filing.
Viktor Yanukovych — A politician from Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine who started his career in coal-mining transport under Soviet rule, Yanukovych has twice been ousted from Ukraine’s presidency by widespread street protests. The first time was in 2004’s Orange Revolution, when he ran with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s backing and won a victory ultimately declared fraudulent in court.
“It’s a game,” David Zhvania, a member of parliament and financier of the protests against Yanukovych said at the time. “We showed Ukrainians why he was scary, but we also explained to Yanukovych why he was scary, and from his first day in power we saw that he was listening.”
Yet once in power, he pushed Ukraine back toward Russia and away from NATO. He jailed his main political rival and other opponents while enriching himself, his family and his friends. In 2014, Ukrainians again took to the streets in protest after Yanukovych bowed to Putin and rejected a trade deal with the European Union. Yanukovych fought bloodily to keep power but was eventually ousted by parliament and fled to Russia. Manafort continued to advise his political party, the Party of Regions, which re-formed as the Opposition Bloc.
The country’s chief prosecutor accused Yanukovych of running a “mafia structure” that cost the country up to $100 billion.”
Two years later, a ledger found by anti-corruption investigators in Ukraine revealed Yanukovych’s multimillion-dollar payments to Manafort, leading to the latter’s resignation as Trump’s campaign chairman.
Oleg Deripaska — The aluminum magnate made his fortune in the chaotic years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when major industries were up for grabs. He is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. For more than a decade, Russian officials have tried to help Deripaska secure a visa to enter the United States. According to a 2007 account in the Wall Street Journal, Deripaska had been denied admission by the Justice Department because of alleged ties to organized crime.
It was Deripaska who paved the way for Manafort to work in Ukraine by introducing him to Rinat Akhmetov, a coal and steel baron who was also the leading financial force behind the Party of Regions.
Deripaska appears to have loaned Manafort $10 million in 2006, according to court filings. The following year, Deripaska partnered with Manafort on an investment project focused on Russia and Ukraine. Manafort’s firm also tried to ingratiate the oligarch with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during the 2008 presidential campaign.
But in 2014, Deripaska accused Manafort in a Cayman Islands court of taking nearly $19 million intended for investments and then failing to account for the funds, return them or respond to numerous inquiries about exactly how the money was used.
Rinat Akhmetov — A billionaire Ukrainian coal and steel tycoon who hired Manafort in 2005 as an adviser.
Manafort’s first job in Ukraine was to burnish the local and international reputation of a company owned by Akhmetov based in the Russian-speaking industrial Donetsk region. Akhmetov soon introduced Manafort to Viktor Yanukovych; Akhmetov was a major financial backer of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, and the Opposition Bloc formed after Yanukovych’s ouster.
Manafort wrote a long, detailed memorandum to Akhmetov in 2005 outlining his thoughts on the Party of Regions, including that it was associated in voters’ minds with “corruption” and considered the “party of the oligarchs.”
Konstantin Kilimnik — Kilimnik ran Manafort’s office in Kiev, Ukraine, during the 10 years he did consulting work there. He also served in the Russian army and learned English at a military school that some experts consider a training ground for Russian spies. Prosecutors say he has ties to Russian intelligence, according to court documents, something Kilimnik has denied. The special counsel has indicted him for witness tampering, saying that, along with Manafort, he tried to sway the testimony of two potential witnesses who might offer evidence for prosecutors. Authorities charge that the conduct of Manafort and Kilimnik amounts to witness tampering and have asked a judge to revise or revoke Manafort’s bail package.
Kilimnik’s name appears on many emails prosecutors hope to show at trial detailing Manafort’s work in Ukraine from 2005 to 2014.
Tad Devine — Devine is a Democratic strategist who worked with Manafort on Viktor Yanukovych’s rehabilitation and election as president in 2010.
He says he refused to work for Yanukovych after the Ukrainian president saw his rival in the 2010 race, Yulia Tymoshenko, put in prison. But potential trial exhibits include a memo Devine sent Manafort later that year, as well as an agreement to come back and speak to a new political party formed in Yanukovych’s absence in 2014.
Devine is set to testify against Manafort at trial.
“The Special Counsel has asked Tad Devine to appear and testify about media consulting work on past political campaigns in Ukraine,” Devine’s firm Devine Mulvey Longabaugh said in a statement. “We have been assured by the Special Counsel’s Office that we have no legal exposure, did not act unlawfully, and that Tad is testifying as a fact witness.”
Rabin Strasberg — The media consulting business that Democratic admakers Daniel Rabin and Adam Strasberg ran together when they worked with Manafort in Ukraine during several elections there. According to Manafort’s foreign lobbying disclosure, his firm paid them about $350,000 in 2012 for work in Ukraine.
Their names come up in proposed trial exhibits from 2010 to 2014, in discussions of campaign ads and a video commemorating the UEFA Euro 2012 soccer championship.
“These draft spots are more political than uplifting,” Manafort wrote Rabin of the Democratic consultant’s proposal for that tournament, which was hosted by Ukraine and Poland. Manafort said he wanted something more like Ronald Reagan’s “old ‘Morning in America’ spots in 1984 that was built on the strength of the country and people and hope. . . . We need something less obvious.”
Rabin and Strasberg also helped devise an ad strategy for the 2012 Ukrainian parliamentary elections, described in a memo as featuring regular citizens arguing that “The Party of Regions inherited a bigger mess than anyone could have imagined.”
Rabin is scheduled to testify against Manafort. Like Devine, Strasberg did work for both John F. Kerry in 2004 and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in 2016. Rabin has worked for Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and the Sierra Club. On the website for Rabin’s current company, RSH Campaigns, he highlights his work for Ukrainian wrestler and politician Vitali Klitschko, who opposed Yanukovych, but not his work for Yanukovych and his party.
Kositzka, Wicks and Company — This Alexandria, Va.-based accounting firm handled Manafort’s tax returns. Cindy Laporta, a current employee, and Conor O’Brien, a former one, are both being compelled to testify at trial with immunity.
At one point, according to the indictment, Manafort’s tax accountant sent backdated bank documentation falsely stating a $1.5 million loan had been forgiven while inflating his income. The $1.5 million was actually money Manafort made in Ukraine but disguised as a loan to avoid taxes, according to prosecutors.
Federal Savings Bank — “Lender D” in the indictment gave Manafort about $16 million in loans between July 2016 and January 2017, based on what prosecutors say were doctored and false financial statements overstating his income by millions of dollars. The CEO of the bank, Stephen Calk, was one of Donald Trump’s economic advisers on the campaign. Two witnesses being compelled to testify at trial, James Brennan and Dennis Raico, appear to be employees of the bank, according to online business directories.
“Out of respect for the Court and in the interest of fairness to the parties, The Federal Savings Bank will make no press comments during the pendency of Mr. Manafort’s trial,” the bank said in a statement. “The Federal Savings Bank continues to cooperate with the Special Counsel’s Office in its investigation.”
The bank is based in Chicago and was formed by Calk and his brother in 2011 after they bought a tiny Kansas bank with $44 million in assets, according to American Banker. They previously ran a non-bank mortgage lending company together; both firms concentrated on home loans for veterans.
In a lawsuit, CitiMortgage accused the Calks of simply transferring their business from one firm to another to shirk liabilities. American Banker, which reported on the lawsuit, said it was eventually settled.
American Banker also reported that Federal Savings Bank got $3.6 million in job-training grants from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel by hiring workers for their bank they had fired from their other company.
“It was blatantly obvious what they were doing, and how they got away with it is beyond me,” a former employee told the magazine.
The bank now handles over $4.2 billion in loans a year, according to its website, and made $188.8 million in revenue in 2016.
Stephen Calk — The chairman and CEO of Federal Savings Bank knew Paul Manafort submitted fraudulent loan documents, but lent him $16 million because he sought a position in Donald Trump’s campaign and administration, according to prosecutors. Calk did serve on Trump’s 13-member economic advisory team during the campaign but was never given a paying job or a Cabinet position. Calk did make inquiries at the Army about the confirmation process, according to congressional Democrats, who asked the banker by letter if he engaged in a “quid pro quo” with Manafort.
Federal Savings Bank denied any such arrangement at the time, saying in a response to Democrats on the House Oversight Committee that “the bank was a victim of Manafort’s fraudulent conduct.”
In court, special counsel prosecutor Greg Andres said Calk “did know the information presented was not accurate.”
Manafort’s alleged misrepresentations are still illegal, Andres added, because “the fraud was on the bank and not just the individual.”
Calk is a U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School graduate and former Army helicopter pilot who told the Chicago Sun-Times he met Trump at a charity function.
“I’ve never seen him to be racist or sexist or show intentional disrespect,” he said in that interview. “I think he’s an American who speaks what’s on his mind.”
In 2014, his bank made a lucrative deal with Douglas Elliman Real Estate, a firm whose chairman, Howard Lorber, is a close friend of Trump. But Bloomberg reported that within a year, Lorber terminated the agreement and instead turned to Rhode Island-based Citizens Bank (another Manafort lender). Calk sued. In a deposition, Lorber said Calk wasn’t willing to pay loan officers competitive salaries and was “always blaming the problems on somebody else and took no responsibility.”
A jury granted Federal Savings Bank $500,000, a judgment Citizens Bank is appealing.
Genesis Capital Corporation — Described in court filings as “Lender A,” the private lender gave Manafort a $5.3 million loan in February 2016. According to court filings, Manafort falsely claimed $1.4 million of the loan would be used for construction on his Brooklyn brownstone, but he actually wanted it to pay off another mortgage.
According to court documents, that same month Genesis funded a $3.7 million refinance and construction loan for a property Manafort co-owned in Los Angeles.
Both loans went into default that year, and Genesis moved for foreclosure in New York court. To refinance those loans, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit, Manafort secured a $16 million loan from Federal Savings Bank.
Genesis also lent millions of dollars to Manafort’s former son-in-law, Jeffrey Yohai, for California real estate ventures that Manafort helped finance.
Citizens Bank — “Lender B” in court filings, a Rhode Island-based bank, lent Manafort $3.4 million in March 2016. Manafort then applied for a $5.5 million loan with falsified documents hiding his debts and inflating his income, according to court documents. An unnamed conspirator working at the bank said the first version “looks Dr’d,” and a cleaner version was sent to the bank.
Experts told the Associated Press that the bank could face regulatory scrutiny as a result of the Manafort case, causing its stock to fall.
“We are not aware that we are the subject of any active investigation associated with the matter in the press article,” the bank responded in a statement. “We have a robust system of controls and procedures. . . . We do not believe any matters under speculation in the article will have a negative impact on our regulatory standing, the conduct of our business or the execution of our strategic plan.”
Banc of California — Manafort allegedly sent this Santa Ana-based bank, called “Lender C” in his indictment, doctored and falsified financial documents to try to get a business loan in February and March 2016.