Ex-Trump aide Manafort had ‘huge dumpster of hidden money,’ jury told

FILE PHOTO: Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort departs from U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, U.S., February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Reuters) – Paul Manafort had “a huge dumpster of hidden money” abroad, a prosecutor said on Wednesday, urging a jury to convict U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chief on financial fraud charges based more on a paper trail of evidence than the testimony of a former protege. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Andres gave his closing statement in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, where Manafort is on trial on tax and bank fraud charges, along with failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. The trial is the first to come out of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The charges involve tax and bank fraud, not possible collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign for president. A Manafort conviction would undermine efforts by Trump and some Republican lawmakers to paint Mueller’s Russia inquiry as a political witch hunt, while an acquittal would be a setback for the special counsel. The star witness against Manafort was seen as Rick Gates, his former right-hand man, who was indicted along with Manafort but pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government. The defense has portrayed Gates as a lying thief who had his hand in the “cookie jar” and was only trying to reduce his own sentence, noting Gates will be allowed to argue for probation even though he admitted to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars and being involved in Manafort’s alleged crimes. Andres argued that while Manafort did not “choose a Boy Scout” as his associate, Gates’ testimony was corroborated by other evidence, including nearly 400 exhibits, and a series of financial professionals who took the stand for the prosecution. “The star witness in this case is the documents,” Andres told the jury. “That wasn’t a cookie jar,” he added, referring to the tens of millions of dollars Manafort had overseas. “It was a huge dumpster of hidden money in foreign bank accounts. Prosecutors say Manafort, 69, tried to mislead bankers with doctored financial statements in 2015 and 2016 to secure more than $20 million in loans and failed to pay taxes on more than $15 million that he earned as a political consultant in Ukraine. Defense lawyers decided not to call any witnesses in the trial, and Manafort, a veteran Republican political operative, did not testify in his own defense. In its closing argument, defense counsel argued that Manafort had been transparent with the banks and that any issues with his financial situation were well known to them before they extended him the loans. They also sought to emphasize the idea that Manafort did not knowingly break the law — a requirement for conviction — and was rather failed by the bookkeepers, accountants and other professionals in whom he trusted his financial affairs. If found guilty on all 18 charges by the 12-person jury, he could face eight to 10 years in prison, according to sentencing expert Justin Paperny. Manafort also faces a second trial in September in Washington, where he is accused of failing to disclose lobbying for Ukranian politicians, among other crimes.