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Paul Manafort sentenced to less than 4 years in prison after judge praises 'otherwise blameless life'

Federal guidelines called for Manafort, 69, to spend 19-and-a-half to 24 years behind bars.
Court Hearing For Paul Manafort And Rick Gates Following Indictment
Paul Manafort walks to his vehicle after a status conference at the U.S. Courthouse in Washington on Dec. 11, 2017.Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, was sentenced to 47 months in prison Thursday by a federal judge in Virginia on tax and bank fraud charges, considerably less than the federal guidelines.

The 69-year-old longtime political operative had faced between 19-and-a-half to 24 years behind bars for the charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller. Prior to announcing his decision, Judge T.S. Ellis called that range "excessive," and said Manafort "has lived an otherwise blameless life."

"Let me be clear: the guidelines would suggest sentencing is a calculation. It is not. It is a judgment,” Ellis said.

Ellis then went through cases he thought were similar to Manafort's in which defendants received little to no time in prison. “It is important to avoid unwarranted disparities," he said.

“Reasonable people may disagree,” Ellis said of the light sentence. Manafort will also receive nine months of time already served.

Manafort, who wore a green jumpsuit and white long sleeve shirt, was seated in a wheelchair throughout the proceedings. Before his sentence was imposed, he gave a short statement in which he did not apologize and did not seem to express remorse.

He told the court that he has been humiliated, and asked the judge for "compassion."

"I have felt punishment during these proceedings," he said.

Ellis chided Manafort for not expressing remorse for his crimes in his statement.

"I was surprised I did not hear you express regret,” he said.

Manafort had no noticeable reaction upon receiving his sentence, which includes a $50,000 fine and three additional years of supervised release.

In August 2018, a federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia, convicted Manafort on eight felony counts — five counts of tax fraud, one count of failure to file a report of foreign bank and financial accounts and two counts of bank fraud. The judge declared a mistrial on the 10 other charges he faced.

Last June, Mueller’s prosecutors also charged Manafort with trying to influence witnesses who might be called to testify about his lobbying work for Ukraine. When witness tampering charges were added, Manafort's bail was revoked and he was placed in solitary confinement for safety reasons. During his statement to the court on Thursday, Manafort said he had time to "repent" during his time behind bars.

Paul Manafort seated in a wheelchair next to his lawyers in Virginia federal court on March 7, 2019.
Paul Manafort seated in a wheelchair next to his lawyers in Virginia federal court on March 7, 2019.Art Lien

Prosecutors urged Ellis to follow federal sentencing guidelines, arguing that Manafort was not remorseful and that his sentencing memo is “replete with blaming others.”

“Hours of time spent with the special counsel are not reflective of the value of information we received," prosecutor Greg Andres said. “Fifty hours with us was because he lied. He lied, so it took longer to provide the truth to him.”

From the bench, Ellis stressed that the case did not have any connection to Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Mueller's chief investigative mandate. Kevin Downing, Manafort's defense attorney, said the same in a brief statement after the hearing ended.

"There is absolutely no evidence that Paul Manafort was involved with any collusion with any government official from Russia," he told reporters.

After Ellis announced his judgment, legal observers expressed surprise at the lenient sentence.

In a sentencing memo to the judge last month, prosecutors for Mueller called the charges against Manafort "serious, longstanding, and bold," arguing that the offenses were so serious that "the government has not located a comparable case with the unique array of crimes and aggravating factors."

"Manafort acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law, and deprived the federal government and various financial institutions of millions of dollars,” prosecutors wrote in the memo. “The sentence here should reflect the seriousness of these crimes.”

Prosecutors built a case that Manafort for years hid millions from U.S. tax authorities in overseas accounts, spending the money to maintain a lavish lifestyle and lying to banks to generate more cash.

Though the trial was the first public test of Mueller's probe, the charges had nothing to do with Mueller's main task as special counsel — to discover whether anyone in the U.S. was helping Russia interfere in the election.

Manafort faces a second sentencing hearing in federal court in Washington, D.C., on March 13.

The judge in that case, Amy Berman Jackson, must decide if Manafort, who turns 70 in April, will serve the two sentences at the same time or whether they must be served consecutively.

In that case, he pleaded guilty in September to two new counts, admitted his guilt to the 10 outstanding counts in the Virginia trial and agreed to cooperate with special counsel prosecutors in a deal that would have made him eligible for a lighter sentence. He also agreed to forfeit multiple bank accounts and properties, including his apartment in Trump Tower. However, Judge Jackson since agreed with investigators' assessment that Manafort lied to them in order to protect a Russian conspirator.

As such, the cooperation deal is off.