Manafort’s NY fraud case tossed over dou­ble jeop­ardy con­cern

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - NEWS - By Michael R. Sisak

NEW YORK >> A New York judge threw out state mort­gage fraud charges against Paul Manafort, rul­ing Wed­nes­day that the crim­i­nal case was too sim­i­lar to one that has al­ready landed Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s former cam­paign chair­man in fed­eral prison.

The rul­ing was a blow to what had widely been seen as an at­tempt by Man­hat­tan’s dis­trict at­tor­ney, a Demo­crat, to hedge against the pos­si­bil­ity that Trump would par­don Manafort for fed­eral crimes. Dis­trict At­tor­ney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s of­fice said it would ap­peal.

Manafort was con­victed last year in two fed­eral cases stem­ming from his busi­ness deal­ings and is serv­ing a 7½-year prison sen­tence.

Judge Maxwell Wi­ley ruled that state law pre­cludes pros­e­cu­tion, cit­ing dou­ble jeop­ardy grounds. Manafort, 70, wasn’t in court for the rul­ing be­cause of a health prob­lem.

De­fense lawyer Todd Blanche raised the dou­ble jeop­ardy is­sue soon af­ter Manafort was ar­rested, say­ing that the charges brought by Vance vi­o­lated a state law that bars re­peat pros­e­cu­tions for the same gen­eral con­duct. He wrote in court pa­pers seek­ing a dis­missal that the fac­tual over­lap be­tween the fed­eral and state cases “is ex­ten­sive — if not to­tal.”

“This in­dict­ment should never have been brought, and to­day’s de­ci­sion is a stark re­minder that the law and jus­tice should al­ways pre­vail over po­lit­i­cally-mo­ti­vated ac­tions,” Blanche said in a writ­ten state­ment.

Wi­ley an­nounced his rul­ing to pros­e­cu­tors and Manafort’s lawyers at a hear­ing that lasted just a few min­utes. Coin­ci­den­tally, it was sched­uled for the same day that the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives was poised to im­peach Trump over al­le­ga­tions he pres­sured his Ukrainian coun­ter­part to in­ves­ti­gate the son of po­lit­i­cal ri­val Joe Bi­den.

“Ba­si­cally, the law of dou­ble jeop­ardy in New York state pro­vides a very nar­row win­dow for pros­e­cu­tion,” Wi­ley said.

Manafort didn’t at­tend be­cause of a heart-re­lated con­di­tion that caused him to be moved to a hospi­tal from a fed­eral prison in Penn­syl­va­nia for about a week, two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Tues­day. They were not per­mit­ted to dis­cuss the mat­ter pub­licly and spoke to the AP on con­di­tion of anonymity. Blanche said Manafort was re­leased from the hospi­tal Wed­nes­day and re­turned to prison.

Manafort looked frail as he shuf­fled into a Man­hat­tan court­room in June for an ar­raign­ment on the state charges. He re­mained seated as he en­tered a not guilty plea and had to be helped out of his chair. In March, at his sen­tenc­ing in the sec­ond of the two fed­eral cases, he used a wheel­chair be­cause of gout.

Manafort was con­victed in fed­eral court on charges al­leg­ing he mis­led the U.S. gov­ern­ment about lu­cra­tive for­eign lob­by­ing work, hid mil­lions of dol­lars from tax au­thor­i­ties and en­cour­aged wit­nesses to lie on his be­half.

Vance an­nounced the state charges just min­utes af­ter the March sen­tenc­ing, say­ing in a state­ment at the time: “No one is be­yond the law in New York.”

The 16-count New York in­dict­ment al­leged Manafort gave false and mis­lead­ing in­for­ma­tion in ap­ply­ing for res­i­den­tial mort­gage loans, start­ing in 2015 and con­tin­u­ing un­til three days be­fore Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in 2017. He was also charged with fal­si­fy­ing busi­ness records and con­spir­acy.

Man­hat­tan pros­e­cu­tors had ar­gued that the state case was based on al­le­ga­tions that were never re­solved in Manafort’s 2018 fed­eral trial in Vir­ginia. Ju­rors found Manafort guilty of eight counts of tax and bank fraud but couldn’t reach a ver­dict on 10 oth­ers, re­sult­ing in a mis­trial on those counts.

They also ar­gued that the case should pro­ceed be­cause mort­gage fraud and fal­si­fy­ing busi­ness records are state crimes, but not fed­eral crimes.

In pa­per­work filed in con­nec­tion with Manafort’s ar­raign­ment, though, Man­hat­tan pros­e­cu­tors made clear that their case in­volved some of the same is­sues as those heard in fed­eral court.

SETH WENIG — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Former Trump cam­paign man­ager Paul Manafort ar­rives in a New York court.

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