Manhattan DA announces state fraud charges against Manafort

13 MAR 19 13:59 ET

(CNN) — Paul Manafort has been hit with new criminal charges in New York City not even an hour after learning his prison sentence for federal crimes.

The new case adds to the legal trouble for Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, and throws a curveball to growing chatter that the President could pardon him. If convicted for crimes in Manhattan, the President would have no power to issue a pardon.

The Manhattan district attorney on Wednesday charged the former Trump campaign chairman with mortgage fraud, falsifying business records and conspiracy for a total of 16 counts, the prosecutor’s office announced. The charges relate to mortgages he received on properties in the New York area.

A federal judge in Washington had minutes earlier ordered Manafort to spend a total of 7.5 years in federal prison for a decade’s worth of financial and lobbying crimes and obstruction of justice.

“No one is beyond the law in New York,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, according to a statement. A grand jury there returned the indictment on March 7.

The district attorney’s office led by Vance has been investigating Manafort since 2017, and prosecutors in recent weeks subpoenaed Manafort’s longtime accounting firm for documents, a person familiar with the matter told CNN.

Manafort has not yet entered a plea in the Manhattan case. He has made broad admissions and apologized for his crimes in the two federal cases.

Manafort’s primary defense attorney Kevin Downing was not aware of the new Manhattan charges as he exited the federal court in Washington, DC, after the sentencing Wednesday. When asked by CNN about them, he declined to comment.

Pardon possibilities

If convicted, Manafort could face years in prison. The most serious of the charges, residential mortgage fraud, carries a sentence of a minimum of one to three years in prison and a maximum of 8 1/3 to 25 years.

Though Trump said late last year that he hadn’t discussed a potential pardon for Manafort, he also acknowledged that the possibility wasn’t “off the table.”

On Monday, Sarah Sanders, Trump’s spokeswoman, said “the President has made his position on that clear. He’ll make the decision when he’s ready.”

Trump has significant leeway to issue pardons for federal crimes, but he can’t do so for state cases.

The new charges are expected to draw scrutiny about “double jeopardy,” a legal concept that prevents defendants from being prosecuted twice for the same offense. The New York state double jeopardy law prohibits bringing state criminal charges that have been brought in another jurisdiction or any charge arising out of the same criminal transaction. That means Vance may be limited in the charges he could bring against Manafort.

There are exceptions to the law, however, and by moving forward, New York prosecutors are signaling confidence that they’ve overcome the hurdle and are prepared to fight it in court.

Last summer, after a month-long trial, Manafort was convicted on eight bank fraud and tax-related charges in a Virginia federal court. Those charges involved some of the same bank loans that are under scrutiny by the New York prosecutors.

The jury was unable to reach a verdict on 10 counts, including conspiracy to commit bank fraud and bank fraud. Prosecutors may try to argue that since those charges were undecided, they are free to prosecute the same offenses.

One of the loans under scrutiny by the district attorney’s office was issued by Citizens Bank, which has been cooperating with the investigation, according to a person familiar with the matter. Last summer, Manafort was found guilty in the Virginia trial of having defrauded Citizens after he was charged with misleading the bank to obtain a $3.4 million loan on a condo he owned in SoHo.

To obtain the loan, Manafort falsely told the bank the condo was his “second home” and not an investment property, according to testimony at his criminal trial in Virginia. Manafort was renting the two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo on Airbnb but took the listing down when applying for the mortgage.

A Citizens Bank underwriting manager testified at the trial that the loan far exceeded the bank’s $1 million loan policy for investment properties and Manafort never would have been given nearly three times that amount had they known the truth.

Manafort also pleaded guilty in September to two charges of conspiracy against the US and witness tampering as part of a cooperation agreement. The agreement fell apart after a judge ruled Manafort lied to the special counsel’s office.

Prosecutors with the special counsel’s office said during a recent hearing that Manafort may have been motivated by the prospect of a pardon when he lied during interviews. Andrew Weissman, one of the prosecutors, said that Manafort may have lied because he did not want “negative consequences in terms of the other motive that Mr. Manafort could have, which is to at least augment his chances for a pardon.”

In all, Manafort received two federal sentences that will total 90 months in prison, plus millions of dollars in restitution payments and a $50,000 fine. He has already been in jail for nine months for witness tampering.

At his second federal sentencing hearing on Wednesday, Manafort said he took responsibility for his crimes and that he was sorry. The judge, however, noted that he and his defense team had tried to minimize his actions and politically attack the special counsel’s office of the Department of Justice, which brought the federal cases as part of an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

While Manafort asked for leniency, he at times appeared interested in swaying “some other audience,” the judge, Amy Berman Jackson of the US District Court in DC, said on Wednesday morning, hinting at the President’s criticisms of Mueller.

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