All eyes on 'right-hand man' as Manafort trial resumes

Susan Walsh  AP

Susan Walsh AP

And a series of businessmen said he used worldwide wire transfers to pay for millions of dollars in luxury items.

Gates's testimony "will certainly be the climax" of the Manafort trial, said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor now at the McCarter & English law firm.

Paul Manafort's longtime bookkeeper is testifying that profit and loss statements the former Trump campaign chairman submitted to obtain bank loans contained false information - and, at times, obvious misspellings. It's the first courtroom test of Mueller's team, which is tasked with looking into Russia's efforts to interfere with the USA election and whether the Trump presidential campaign colluded with Moscow to sway voters.

Weissmann previously prosecuted several high-profile federal cases, including one against the Arthur Andersen accounting firm that was overturned by the Supreme Court 9-0.

None of the charges that Mr Manafort faces at trial relate to the investigation into possible collusion in 2016 between Russian Federation and the Trump campaign. The trial in that case is expected to begin September 17. But others speculate Manafort may be holding out for a pardon from President Donald Trump.

While taking some of the sting out of Laporta's testimony could prove useful to the defense, the more important challenge will be undercutting Gates, who as part of his plea deal admitted to helping Manafort evade taxes and mislead banks to get him loans. Of course, not a single one of the professionals (accountants, bookkeepers, lawyers, employees, other lobbyists) who take the stand will ever admit that they took action exclusively on the word of Rick Gates, without Manafort's knowledge.

Gates is expected to testify this week.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III has questioned the government's use of such materials and in several instances, directed prosecutors not to use photographs and other evidence of Manafort's lavish lifestyle. "It isn't a crime to be profligate in your spending", Ellis said.

Attorneys for special counsel Robert Mueller's team say in a court filing that an Federal Bureau of Investigation forensic accountant reviewed "tens of thousands" of documents from 20 financial institutions and 35 companies to support the tax evasion and bank fraud charges against Manafort.

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One-by-one, a retired carpenter, a natty clothier and a high-end landscaper detailed how Manafort paid them in global wire transfers from offshore companies.

At one point, Asonye asked Laporta why she didn't object when in 2015 she was presented with documents including a back-dated loan that was forgiven.

Justice Department attorney Greg Andres showed jurors an email chain between Gates and Washkuhn on March 16, 2016, as Manafort was seeking a bank loan.

Laporta, who testified with a grant of immunity because she feared prosecution, recounted the creation of a $900,000 loan booked to a Cyprus company that had the effect of disguising income in that amount on Manafort's 2014 tax return.

Accountant Cindy LaPorta said she had a sense that what Manafort and aide Rick Gates told her about funds being transferred into their global political consulting business wasn't accurate.

All told, prosecutors allege that Manafort failed to report a "significant percentage" of the more than $60 million they say he received from Ukrainian oligarchs.

Though the names of those companies appeared on wire transfers and at times on his bookkeeper's ledger, both Manafort's accountants and his bookkeeper say they never knew the companies - and corresponding offshore bank accounts - were controlled by Manafort. He did not make those accounts known to them, all the witnesses said.

"Rick Gates had his hand in the cookie jar and couldn't let his boss find out", Manafort defense attorney Thomas Zehnle said during opening arguments.

The testimony about Manafort's financial problems came after a string of witnesses walked jurors through the millions of dollars he spent on landscaping, home improvement and what a landscaper described as one of the biggest ponds in the Hamptons.

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