A few years before he became Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, longtime Republican political operative Paul Manafort went on a spending spree with money funneled through a network of offshore bank accounts, a federal indictment unsealed Monday alleges.
He bought a $1.5 million brownstone in a trendy New York neighborhood, and a $1.9 million home in Arlington, Virginia. He paid for three Range Rovers and a Mercedes-Benz, landscaping at his Hamptons getaway, and pricey improvements at his house in Palm Beach, Florida.
In all, out of more than $75 million that flowed through the offshore accounts, more than $18 million was “laundered,” with income concealed from the U.S. government, and was used in part to cover Manafort’s “lavish lifestyle,” the indictment says.
The indictment of the refined and impeccably dressed former campaign chairman detailed an alleged scheme in which foreign clients paid millions in exchange for Manafort’s consulting services. Manafort’s lawyer, Kevin Downing, rebutted the charges Monday, saying Manafort was not seeking to launder funds.
Manafort, a confidante of presidents dating back to George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, was the biggest name charged thus far in a federal investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is examining possible collusion by Trump’s campaign with Russia. Manafort’s indictment, along with charges against his former business partner Rick Gates, who also worked for the Trump campaign, brought Mueller close to the inner circle that guided Trump’s 2016 victory. Manafort and Gates pleaded not guilty and did not speak to reporters.
“This indictment is tragic and for Paul and his family,” said Manafort’s former business partner, Charles Black, who said he couldn’t speak to the specifics because he hasn’t worked with Manafort for two decades. “For him and Rick Gates, I just pray that they are innocent.”
Manafort was brought into Trump’s campaign in spring 2016, tasked with tracking delegates before becoming chairman. The arrival of a seasoned operative had been welcomed at the time by many Republican leaders as a sign that Trump was ready to professionalize a largely undisciplined campaign as he was preparing to secure the GOP nomination.
But the court papers unsealed Monday show how Trump, in tapping Manafort, also brought aboard a senior strategist with deep, ongoing and potentially problematic foreign entanglements.
For decades, Manafort has been known for his dealings with foreign leaders, including some with less than savory reputations.
In recent years, in addition to his work for Trump and for a Ukrainian presidential candidate, he has made deals with foreign business titans that have resulted in controversy, including one with a Russian oligarch who charged that Manafort and Gates “disappeared” without paying money they allegedly owed him. Manafort and Gates denied the allegation.
Manafort’s journey from being one of Washington’s most sought-after political operatives to defendant in a high-profile federal investigation is a story of a chase for power and money.
Manafort, 68, was raised in Connecticut, the son of the mayor of New Britain. With a Georgetown University law degree, he worked for President Gerald Ford’s 1976 campaign, tracking delegates at the nominating convention. He ran Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign in the south.
Manafort’s ascendancy in Washington reached new heights when he became a founding partner in 1980 of the lobbying firm, Black, Manafort & Stone, with Black and Roger Stone, the latter a longtime Trump confidante. During Manafort’s 16 years at the firm, his clients included two dictators, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now Congo) and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, who allegedly stole billions of dollars from their countries.
In 1989, Manafort testified before Congress about a deal in which he lobbied to obtain $43 million in federal housing subsidies for a New Jersey project while his firm held an option to buy a stake in the property. The firm invested before the subsidies were awarded, but Manafort testified he had a “high degree of expectation” that they would win approval.
“The technical term for what we do and what law firms, associations and professional groups do is ‘lobbying,’” Manafort said. “For purposes of today, I will admit that, in a narrow sense, some people might term it ‘influence peddling.’”
Manafort’s globe-trotting lifestyle led friends to dub him “the Count of Monte Cristo,” a reference to the swashbuckling hero of a 19th-century French novel.
Manafort later became a partner in the firm of Davis Manafort, which Manafort owned with Richard Davis. As a partner, Manafort wooed a Russian aluminum magnate, Oleg Deripaska. Manafort and Davis had proposed setting up a $200 million private equity fund to invest mostly in Russia and Ukraine, according to a petition filed by Deripaska, one of a number of fund contributors. Derispaka invested in the partnership through a company called Surf Horizon, incorporated in Cyprus in 2007.
Deripaska sought repayment of some of his investment after the 2007 financial crisis, saying in a petition he was owed $19 million from a failed investment in Ukraine. Deripaska said in a 2014 petition that he was still waiting to be paid, but “It appears that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have simply disappeared.” Deripaska’s representative said in 2016 they were still seeking the money, but a Manafort spokesman subsequently told the New York Times no funds were owed.
During his time at the Trump campaign, Manafort sought to communicate with Deripaska through an intermediary, suggesting that his new position provided an opportunity to settle financial disputes, according to Manafort’s email correspondence, which was turned over to investigators this year.
A turning point for Manafort came in the early 2000s, when he became a consultant for Viktor Yanukovych, who would later become Ukraine’s president.
One of Yanukovych’s supporters was a Ukrainian energy tycoon, Dmitry Firtash, and Manafort soon tried to do business with him, according to a filing in a now-dismissed lawsuit. In 2008, Manafort met with Firtash to discuss a proposal to build an $850 million, 65-story apartment building in New York City. A lawsuit filed by former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko alleged that Firtash worked with Manafort to invest illicit profits from energy deals in Ukraine. Firtash and Manafort denied the allegations and the suit was ultimately dismissed. Spokesmen for Deripaska and Firtash did not respond to requests for comment.
Gates, 45, met Manafort when he interned at his firm, Black, Manafort & Stone.
Manafort, accompanied by Gates, worked for Yanukovych and his Party of Regions, as Yanukovych won the presidency of Ukraine in 2010. While Manafort said he was working for a pro-Western politician who embraced democracy, Yanukovych was ultimately seen as aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Between 2012 and 2014, Manafort’s firm was paid $17 million by the Party of Regions, according to Manafort’s belated filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. As part of Monday’s indictment, Manafort and Gates were accused of hiding their lobbying work for Ukraine in violation of the registration requirements.
The following year, in 2015, Manafort owned an apartment at Trump Tower in New York City and had invested in other properties.
By early 2016, Manafort wanted to join Trump’s presidential campaign. He hadn’t been in close touch with Trump for years, so he sought out one of Trump’s oldest and closest friends, Thomas J. Barrack Jr., to serve as a conduit. Barrack and Manafort were also longtime friends.
Barrack, a billionaire who runs a real estate investment company, said in a recent interview that the only financial deal he had ever made with Manafort was around 2004, when he loaned $1.5 million for a house owned by Manafort’s wife. Barrack said the loan was paid back at market rate in 14 months.
Shortly after Trump lost the Iowa caucuses, Manafort met Barrack at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills. “Paul came to me and said, ‘I really need to get to [Trump], I think I can be really effective at the convention,’” Barrack said.
Barrack said in the interview that he sent materials about Manafort to Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump. Barrack had known both of them for years. In the email, Barrack wrote that Manafort would be “a killer” at the job.
Trump agreed to hire Manafort, who said he would work without pay. Manafort subsequently became campaign chairman.
During his time in the position, Manafort attended a June 9, 2016 meeting with Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. at which a Russian lawyer was said to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton. The meeting is not mentioned in the indictment, but it has been a focus of Mueller’s investigation into whether Russia colluded with the Trump campaign.
Manafort resigned in August 2016 after reports of his ties to Yanukovych and the publication of a ledger in Ukraine that showed millions of dollars of supposedly “off the books” payments to Manafort from the Party of Regions, a claim Manafort has denied.
Barrack invited Manafort to join him on his yacht off the coast of Greece. “He got fired, and I felt terrible,” Barrack said. “When Manafort called, he was depressed. I said, ‘I have got five guys on a boat,’ and ‘Join us.’ He came over, and he spent four or five days figuring out what he would do next.”
Barrack subsequently hired Gates for two positions: first, to be deputy chairman of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, of which Barrack was chairman; and, second, as a Washington-based consultant of his company, Colony NorthStar. Gates remained in the latter position until the time of the indictment, when his contract with the company was terminated, according to an official familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
During their work in the Ukraine, starting in 2008, Manafort and Gates allegedly devised a scheme to “defraud” banks and other institutions by wiring money to accounts in a way that laundered the funds without paying taxes.
Details of Manafort’s luxurious lifestyle and income were spread on social media in February, when hackers exposed a cache of more than 285,000 personal messages purportedly stolen from the iPhone of Manafort’s daughter, Andrea.
Manafort’s spokesman previously confirmed that the phone was hacked and that some of the texts placed on line were authentic, but he has declined to authenticate the entire cache.
In one of the posted text messages, Andrea Manafort wrote to her sister in 2015, “Don’t fool yourself. The money we have is blood money.”
Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.