World / Crime & Legal

U.S. judge agrees to delay Paul Manafort trial by week, gives five immunity to testify against him

Bloomberg

Five potential witnesses against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, including accountants and bankers, were identified Monday as the federal judge in the case granted the defense more time to review tens of thousands of documents handed over in recent weeks.

Among the possible witnesses granted immunity in the case are people from Kositzka, Wicks and Company, an accounting firm used by Manafort, and others who appear to have worked for the Federal Savings Bank in Chicago, which provided him with millions of dollars in mortgage loans.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III pushed back Manafort’s bank- and tax-fraud case after defense lawyers complained that they didn’t have adequate time to review 120,000 pages of documents they received this month from prosecutors working with special counsel Robert Mueller.

Ellis said he would have potential jurors fill out written questionnaires on Tuesday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. Then he will bring them back on July 31 to question them before the lawyers agree on 12 jurors and four alternates. Ellis warned that he wouldn’t allow the trial to touch on areas that have “little to do with the guilt or innocence” of Manafort but are instead political theatrics.

“I’m not in the theater business,” Ellis said. “You have to be better looking for that.”

Ellis unsealed the names of five people who were granted immunity from prosecution to in exchange for their testimony. They were James Brennan, Dennis Raico, Cindy Laporta, Donna Duggan and Conor O’Brien.

Laporta works for the accounting firm of Kositzka, Wicks and Company in Virginia and O’Brien was previously employed there. KWC said in a statement that it prepared individual and business income tax returns for Manafort.

“We have and will continue to cooperate fully with the prosecution, including current and former employees of the firm who may be called as witnesses of fact to testify to certain facts the prosecution may feel are pertinent,” KWC said.

Two other names on the list match those who have worked at the Federal Savings Bank, which provided $16 million in mortgage loans to Manafort.

Federal Savings Bank is listed as a recent employer in LinkedIn profiles for a Jim Brennan and a Dennis Raico. According to an exhibit list submitted by the special counsel’s office last week, prosecutors intend to show the jury emails regarding a Manafort loan between a J. Brennan, D. Raico and others whose family names were the same as those of employees at the Federal Savings Bank.

The founder and chief executive of the Federal Savings Bank, Stephen Calk was part of the Trump campaign’s economic advisory panel. House Democrats have asked whether the loans were part of a quid pro quo in which Calk was promised a high-ranking job in the Trump administration.

The bank and Brennan didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Raico couldn’t be located for comment.

Details in the Manafort exhibit list released last week appear to match those of a Donna Duggan who works at Moody Insurance in Germantown, Maryland. Chris Moody, the owner of Moody Insurance Worldwide, declined to comment. Duggan didn’t respond to a call for comment.

Trial Delay

In seeking a trial delay, defense attorney Kevin Downing said he needed more time to go through the documents. Many relate to Rick Gates, Manafort’s right-hand man who pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors. He’s expected to be the star witness for Mueller.

“This is the heart of the case,” Downing said. “I would consider these to be very important items for us to look at before the trial.”

Manafort, 69, is accused of making tens of millions of dollars while working for former pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his party, then concealing those earnings and the offshore bank accounts that held them from U.S. authorities. He’s also charged with misleading lenders about his finances to induce them to make $20 million in loans.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to those charges and to a separate Washington indictment accusing him of money laundering, working as an unregistered agent for Ukraine and obstruction of justice.

That case is set for trial in September.

In the past month, prosecutors handed over 40,000 pages from a Gates laptop, 30,000 documents from other Gates devices, and 49,000 pages from NKSFB LLC, a Los Angeles-based business-management firm that handled bookkeeping for Manafort, according to Downing.

Mueller’s office opposed the trial delay. Prosecutor Uzo Asonye said the late handover of documents wouldn’t affect Manafort’s defense because the government had already given Manafort’s lawyers all of the Gates emails. He said the new material involved only photographs and images.

But Downing said he wants to conduct his own review to determine what he might use on cross-examination, a point that seemed to resonate with the judge.

“The fact that you’re not using something doesn’t mean it won’t be usable by the defense,” he told Asonye.

Asonye told the court he believed the bookkeeping evidence had already been seen by the defense while Manafort was represented by prior counsel.

Asked whether that was so, Downing said his team hadn’t gotten the papers from Manafort’s previous law firm, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, and that NKSFB demanded reimbursement for its production.

“We thought we’d get it through discovery, your honor,” Downing said. “It’s a lot cheaper.”

Asonye said the NKSFB evidence was delayed because of questions about whether it involved privileged materials that prosecutors couldn’t review. He said a separate group of prosecutors known as a taint team had reviewed the materials to determine what could be used at the trial. Prosecutors gave that material to Downing’s lawyer as soon as they received it, Asonye said.

In a filing on Monday, the defense lawyers again asked a federal appeals court to free Manafort from jail to work on his case. Manafort’s bail was revoked last month after prosecutors accused him of witness tampering. A previous motion to set him free pending trial was denied.

“The detention order, which impedes Mr. Manafort’s preparation for those trials, rests on legal error and clear factual error. The order should be vacated,” Manafort’s lawyers wrote.

Coronavirus banner