By Karen Freifeld and Nathan Layne
(Reuters) – Paul Manafort had “a huge dumpster of hidden money” abroad, a prosecutor said on Wednesday, urging a jury to convict the former Trump 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 Russia’s 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 has been viewed 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.
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.
“The star witness in this case is the documents,” he 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 get loans and willfully failed to pay taxes on more than $15 million that he earned as a political consultant in Ukraine.
Andres said Manafort, a veteran Republican political operative, “lies on his tax returns and lies to bank after bank after bank.”
Defense lawyers decided not to call any witnesses in the trial, and Manafort himself will not testify in his own defense.
Manafort made millions of dollars working for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians before he took an unpaid position with Trump’s campaign. He was on the campaign team for five months and led it in mid-2016 when Trump was selected as the Republican nominee for the presidential election.
Prosecutors say Manafort hid money in offshore bank accounts and then used it to pay for over $6 million in New York and Virginia real estate, items such as antique rugs and fancy clothes, including a $15,000 jacket made of ostrich skin.
Manafort has been charged with tax and bank fraud as well as failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. If found guilty on all charges, he could face eight to 10 years in prison, according to sentencing expert Justin Paperny.
The closely watched case was expected to go to the 12-person jury later on Wednesday, after Manafort’s lawyers make their closing arguments and the judge issues instructions to the jury.
The court experienced one of its most crowded days during Manafort’s trial, with a long line of people waiting to get in and others seated in an overflow room.
Attorneys Kevin Downing and Richard Westling will likely deliver closing arguments for the defense and argue that Manafort did not intentionally engage in wrongdoing. They are expected to say Manafort was busy working and trusted his affairs to others.
They are sure to take aim at Gates, who admitted in court to an extramarital affair. He also said he helped Manafort doctor financial statements, hide foreign income and evade hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S. income taxes.
The defense has portrayed him as living a secret life of infidelity and embezzlement.
Prosecutor Andres said he was not asking the jury to like Gates. “Does the fact that Mr. Gates had an affair more than 10 years ago make Mr. Manafort any less guilty?” he asked.
(Reporting by Karen Freifeld and Nathan Layne; additional reporting by Amanda Becker; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)