A bank employee testifies to a loan application signed by Manafort with false information


The government’s case against Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, ended Thursday with testimony from employees at several banks who helped process loan applications in which Mr. Manafort allegedly provided false information. .

Over the past two weeks, prosecutors for Special Counsel Robert Mueller have presented evidence they say shows Mr. Manafort earned some $60 million from consultancy work in Ukraine and used millions dollars of that income to pay for luxury clothes and real estate without reporting it. tax returns.

Mr. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges of bank and tax fraud. His lawyers attacked the credibility of Mr. Manafort’s former business partner, Richard Gates, a central witness against him, and blamed him for the wrongdoing, saying it was part of his effort to deflect from the money from Mr. Manafort.

Defense lawyers will have the opportunity to present this case in more detail when the defense begins its closing argument on Friday.

Mr Mueller’s team said it had four witnesses to call on Friday – including one from a bank that was granted immunity to testify – and would end its case after that.

Prosecutors say Mr. Manafort’s consulting business lost key clients in 2014, prompting him in 2015 and 2016 to turn to several US banks for loans based on homes he owned in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

One such institution, Citizens Bank, approved Mr. Manafort in March 2016 for a $3.4 million loan against an apartment in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood.

Melinda James, mortgage loan assistant at the bank, testified Thursday that Mr. Manafort had repeatedly signed loan application documents indicating that the SoHo apartment was a second home for Mr. Manafort rather than a rental unit, and that another Brooklyn townhouse that Mr. Manafort owned had no mortgage.

The WSJ’s Shelby Holliday breaks down the Manafort case and what it means for the broader Russia investigation. Photo: AP

But prosecutors presented evidence, including through a witness from home-sharing service Airbnb Inc. on Thursday morning, that the apartment was available through Airbnb and was occupied by paying guests in 2015 and 2016.

They also showed that Mr. Manafort at the same time applied for a mortgage on the Brooklyn townhouse and obtained that mortgage before taking out the loan for the SoHo apartment.

Prosecutor Uzo Asonye repeatedly read aloud – or asked Ms James to read – mortgage documents, highlighting paragraphs saying it is a crime to deliberately misrepresent application details.

On cross-examination, Mr. Manafort’s lawyer pointed to an email in which Mr. Manafort told Ms. James that the other loan on the Brooklyn property had been “approved”. He said it was Mr Gates who then sent Ms James documents which incorrectly stated that the property had no mortgage.

In testimony earlier this week, Mr. Gates said he did so under the guidance of Mr. Manafort.

Mr. Manafort’s attorney also raised the issue of Mr. Manafort’s daughter and son-in-law’s use of the Manhattan apartment, suggesting that the son-in-law may have listed the apartment on Airbnb at the time. unknown to Mr. Manafort.

Earlier Thursday, prosecutors presented an email from January 26, 2016, in which Mr. Manafort wrote to his son-in-law warning him that an appraiser was coming to the condo, adding, “Remember, he believes that you and Jessica live there,” referring to his daughter.

More coverage of the Manafort trial

As the prosecution’s case draws to a close, Judge TS Ellis’ comments and criticism of prosecutors weighed heavily on the trial.

He lambasted prosecutors on Wednesday for allowing an expert witness to sit during the trial because most witnesses are generally barred from doing so. On Thursday morning, Judge Ellis told the jury to disregard that criticism, saying he “sometimes makes mistakes”.

Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors, who had several heated exchanges with the judge, had formally asked Judge Ellis to correct the record, saying in a filing that he himself had previously approved the presence of the expert witness in court.

“The Court’s stern rebuke of government counsel before the jury on August 8 was therefore misguided,” prosecutors wrote. “And, while errors are a natural part of the trial process, the error here prejudiced the government by indicating to the jury that the government acted improperly and violated court rules or procedures.”

Another Citizens Bank employee testified later Thursday that he received paperwork in 2016 for a separate construction loan that Mr. Manafort requested for the Brooklyn home, which the bank ultimately did not approve.

Mr. Manafort’s initial loan application did not mention a mortgage on the property, even though he had obtained one earlier that year. The employee, Taryn Rodriguez, said she searched a real estate database, found the other mortgage and alerted her supervisor.

Mr. Manafort’s legal team sought to portray the omissions as unintentional, pointing to other instances where Mr. Manafort disclosed relevant information to bank employees, even though it was omitted from official requests.

Write to Aruna Viswanatha at [email protected] and Del Quentin Wilber at [email protected]

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