Prosecutors highlight Manafort’s lavish spending on trial’s second day

Prosecutors highlight Manafort’s lavish spending on trial’s second day
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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Federal prosecutors presented invoices and accounting in court Wednesday highlighting former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortUkrainian who meddled against Trump in 2016 is now under Russia-corruption cloud Feds ask judge to postpone ex-Trump campaign aide's sentencing Giuliani cancels trip to Ukraine to press Biden investigation MORE’s lavish spending.

Witnesses for the prosecution testified that Manafort bought expensive clothing, cars and home renovations, all with money that prosecutors say was earned and hidden overseas. 
 
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to bank and tax fraud charges stemming from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. 

The evidence presented showed Manafort spent over $340,000 over two years at the House of Bijan —   reported to be one of the world’s most expensive men’s stores — and over $929,000 at a luxury men’s boutique in New York City between 2010 and 2014. 

The prosecution called both Ronald Wall, the chief financial officer of the House of Bijan, and Maximillian Katzman, the former manager of the New York City-based Alan Couture, to the witness stand on the second day of the trial against Manafort.

Katzman and Wall both said they received wire transfers from accounts held by Cypress-based companies, including Leviathan Advisors Limited, and that the payments were applied to Manafort’s invoices.

Manafort’s defense team has argued that prosecutors are seeking to use his spending against him, and Judge T. S. Ellis of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia repeatedly pushed the prosecution on Wednesday to get to the point as they offered evidence of his spending habits.

“The government doesn’t want to prosecute someone because they wear nice clothes, do they?” Ellis curtly asked at one point on Wednesday.

Prosecutors are seeking to tie the spending to income that Manafort allegedly failed to report to the IRS and hid in foreign bank accounts he set up through shell companies. Manafort’s attorneys, meanwhile, worked to show the two witnesses had little if any contact with Manafort.

Jay Nanavati, one of the five attorneys who flanked Manafort in court Wednesday, asked if Wall ever interacted with Manafort. 

"I did not," Wall said. 

Nanavati had no further questions.

Manafort’s defense team has largely based their defense on Manafort’s former associate Richard Gates, who was indicted on bank and tax fraud charges alongside Manafort but pled guilty to his charges.  

It was Gates, the defense said, who was supposed to keep track of the money Manafort earned. They say he instead took advantage by “lining his own pockets.”

Gates, who has agreed to work with the federal prosecutors, was expected to be the government’s star witness. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye told Ellis in court Wednesday that Gates may not testify.

He also said the prosecution is ahead of schedule and may rest its case next week, according to The Washington Post. The trial was expected to last three weeks.

In addition to Katzman and Wall, the 12-member jury also heard testimony Wednesday from Daniel Rabin, a political consultant, and FBI Special Agent Matthew Mikuska, who was involved in executing a search warrant at Manafort’s condo in Alexandria, Va.

Rabin testified that Manafort paid him to make TV advertisements for political parties and candidates in Ukraine.

When Andres asked if he was forced to open any foreign bank accounts to get paid for his work, Rabin said he hadn't been.

The question was a strike at the defense, which argued Tuesday that Manafort was forced to open foreign accounts to receive payment for his political consulting work in Ukraine.

A contentious moment came when prosecutors tried to introduce photos of construction and certificates of electrical compliance at the Manaforts’ South Hampton home.

Ellis questioned how that evidence was relevant to the 18 counts of bank and tax fraud faced by Manafort.

Asonye said the photos are evidence of the type of services Manafort paid for by wiring money from foreign accounts, which he set up to conceal his income, straight to U.S. vendors.

Ellis said there are invoices to show that, and that the photos were not necessary.

“Manafort is not on trial for leading a lavish lifestyle,” he said.

Ellis also told prosecutors to find another term for “oligarch.” He said he wanted to avoid the term being used to suggest Manafort was paid by criminals since there's no evidence to prove it.

Attorneys on both sides were also told by the judge to “rein in their facial expressions.” 

Ellis said he was told that lawyers on both sides of the high-profile case have been seen rolling their eyes when leaving the bench.

“It’s inappropriate,” he said.