US President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced by a US judge to less than four years in prison – far shy of federal sentencing guidelines – for financial crimes uncovered during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election, Reuters reports.
US District Judge T.S. Ellis imposed the 47-month sentence on Manafort, 69, during a hearing in Alexandria, Virginia, in which the veteran Republican political consultant asked for mercy but did not express remorse for his actions.
Ellis also ordered Manafort, who was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair, to pay a fine of US$50,000 and restitution of just over US$24 million.
Manafort was found guilty by a jury last August of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to disclose foreign bank accounts.
While prosecutors had not recommended a specific sentence, they had cited federal sentencing guidelines that called for 19-1/2 to 24 years in prison.
“Clearly the guidelines were way out of whack on this,” Ellis said.
The sentence was even less than what defense lawyers had sought. They had asked Ellis to sentence Manafort to between 4-1/4 and 5-1/4 years in prison, writing in their sentencing memo that Mueller’s “attempt to vilify Mr. Manafort as a lifelong and irredeemable felon is beyond the pale and grossly overstates the facts before this court”.
Some legal experts expressed surprise over the leniency of the sentence. “This is a tremendous defeat for the special counsel’s office,” said former federal prosecutor David Weinstein.
Ellis, appointed to the bench by Republican former President Ronald Reagan, called the sentence “sufficiently punitive” but noted that Manafort’s time already served would be subtracted from the 47-month sentence. Manafort has been jailed since June 2018.
The judge also noted during the hearing that Manafort “is not before the court for any allegations that he, or anyone at his direction, colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election”.
Manafort faces sentencing in a separate case next Wednesday in Washington on two conspiracy charges to which he pleaded guilty last September.
While he faces a statutory maximum of 10 years in the Washington case, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson potentially could stack that on top of the sentence imposed in the Virginia case, rather than allowing the sentences to run concurrently. Jackson was appointed by Democratic former President Barack Obama.
Before the sentencing, Manafort thanked Ellis for conducting a fair trial. He expressed no remorse but talked about how the case had been difficult for him and his family. Manafort, who opted not to testify during his trial, told the court that “to say I have been humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement”. He described his life as “professionally and financially in shambles”.
Manafort was convicted after prosecutors accused him of hiding from the US government millions of dollars he earned as a consultant for Ukraine’s former pro-Russia government.
After pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster, prosecutors said, Manafort lied to banks to secure loans and maintain an opulent lifestyle with luxurious homes, designer suits and even a US$15,000 ostrich-skin jacket.
The judge told Manafort: “I was surprised I did not hear you express regret for engaging in wrongful conduct.”
Manafort, with noticeably grayer hair than just months ago, was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair holding a cane, wearing a green prison jumpsuit emblazoned with the words “Alexandria inmate” on the back.
It was a far cry from Manafort’s usual dapper appearance and stylish garb. He has been jailed leading up to his sentencing.
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