US President Donald Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort was on Thursday sentenced to nearly four years in prison by a federal judge for tax crimes and bank fraud in the highest profile case yet stemming from US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
US District Thomas Selby Ellis III immediately came under fire from Democratic lawmakers for imposing what they what they said is a relatively light sentence on the 69-year-old Republican political consultant and lobbyist.
Prosecutors from Mueller’s office had argued for a stiff prison term for Manafort, the first target of Mueller’s probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election to be convicted in a criminal trial.
Ellis said that while Manafort had committed “very serious crimes,” he had previously led an “otherwise blameless life” and the advisory sentencing guidelines calling for 19 to 24 years behind bars were “excessive” and disproportionate to sentences for similar offenses.
“The government cannot sweep away the history of all these previous sentences,” Ellis said.
Manafort was in August last year convicted by a jury of five counts of filing false income tax returns, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to report a foreign bank account.
He is one of a half-dozen former Trump associates and senior aides charged by Mueller.
The charges against Manafort were not connected to his role in the Trump campaign, which he headed for two months in 2016, but were related to lucrative consulting work he did for Russian-backed Ukrainian politicians from 2004 to 2014.
Prosecutors said that Manafort used offshore bank accounts to hide more than US$55 million he earned working for Ukrainian clients.
The money was used to support a lavish lifestyle, which included purchases of luxury homes and cars, antique rugs and expensive clothes, including an US$18,500 python jacket.
His conviction was a stunning downfall for a man who also worked on the White House bids of former US presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, as well as Bob Dole.
Speaking from a wheelchair and wearing a green prison jumpsuit with the words “Alexandria Inmate” on the back, Manafort told the court that his “life, professionally and personally, is in a shambles.”
“I feel the pain and shame,” said Manafort, who the defense said suffers from gout, a form of arthritis.
“To say that I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement,” he said.
Ellis said that he did not hear Manafort express regret or remorse, but the sentencing guidelines were “way out of whack.”
“I think what I’ve done is punitive,” Ellis said.
He sentenced Manafort to a total of 47 months in prison for the eight counts and credited him with nine months of time served.
He was ordered to pay US$24 million in restitution and a US$50,000 fine.
He still faces sentencing in a money laundering and witness tampering case in Washington next week, where the maximum penalty is 10 years and the judge has appeared more sympathetic to prosecutors.
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