Jury to begin deliberations Thursday on Manafort

Jury to begin deliberations Thursday on Manafort
© Anna Moneymaker

It’s up to the jury now.

After nearly three weeks of testimony, the prosecution and defense have rested in the tax evasion and bank fraud case against one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortWhite House braces for Mueller report Hillicon Valley: Trump pushes to speed up 5G rollout | Judge hits Roger Stone with full gag order | Google ends forced arbitration | Advertisers leave YouTube after report on pedophile ring Manafort to be sentenced for bank, tax fraud in Virginia on March 8 MORE.

The 12-member jury, which will begin deliberations on Thursday, must sort through the evidence and decide beyond a reasonable doubt if Manafort should be convicted.

Manafort is facing a total of 18 criminal counts — five counts of tax fraud, four counts of failing to report foreign bank and financial accounts and nine counts of bank fraud and bank fraud conspiracy.

Experts say prosecutors often bring the most charges possible in order to at least secure a conviction on some of the charges.

“I call it the spaghetti theory,” said Gene Rossi, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, where Manafort’s case is being tried. “Each strand is a count and you throw it against the wall in the hope one sticks.”

There are also cases where the evidence is so overwhelming and the area of crime is so vast, it’s impossible to bring only a few charges, said Rossi, who argued 110 federal trials in his career.

Manafort faces up to 10 years in prison for tax fraud alone, prosecutors said in a February court filing.

He faces a maximum 20 years in prison — five years for each of the four counts — on the charges of failing to report foreign bank and financial accounts.

Prosecutors argued in court that Manafort opened more than 30 overseas accounts to avoid paying taxes on income he earned as a political consultant for pro-Russian officials in the Ukraine.

The nine bank fraud and bank fraud conspiracy charges, meanwhile, carry a maximum penalty of 30 years each, totaling 270 years in prison.

Between the charges in Virginia and the separate charges Manafort faces in the District of Columbia, CNN estimates Manafort could get a maximum of 305 years behind bars.

But Seth Waxman, who worked for 13 years as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, predicted that Manafort’s sentence will be nowhere near that amount.  

“What I can assure you is these max sentences are wildly exaggerated as to the real amount of time he’s facing,” he said.

To get 305 years, Waxman said Manafort would have to be found guilty on every count and the judge would have to sentence him to the maximum amount of prison time for each charge, and run each sentence consecutively.

“None of those things ever happen,” said Waxman, often because sentences for different crimes run simultaneously.

Waxman estimated Manafort will get 11 to 14 years for the bank fraud on top of the 10 years prosecutors estimated for tax evasion, based on federal sentencing guidelines.

Because Manafort is 69 years old, Waxman said the defense is likely to argue for a sentence under 10 to 15 years.

“Anything over 10 to 15 years is a significant period of incarceration, which could, given his age, be tantamount to a death sentence,” he said.

Though experts say it’s unlikely Manafort will be acquitted, it only takes one juror to hang a jury. A looming question is what impact, if any, Judge T. S. Ellis will have on the six men and six women tasked with rendering a verdict.

The 78-year-old Reagan appointee repeatedly clashed with prosecutors, urging members of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's team to get to the point of their arguments.   

Rossi, who argued seven trials in front of Ellis, said the judge is known to hammer prosecutors when he thinks they are wasting the jury’s time.

“It might seem like he’s going to greatly affect the jury, but I have seen Judge Ellis engage in similar conduct against me and it did not affect the jury one bit,” he said.