They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

ALEXANDRIA, VA — Paul Manafort purchased season tickets for the New York Yankees from 2010 through 2017, with at least some of those seasons in the “Legends Suite,” according Irfan Kirimca, the senior director of ticket operations for the Yankees.

A ticket agreement admitted by prosecutors from 2014 showed that Manafort had purchased tickets for a “Legends Suite,” which “provides first-class accommodations,” according to the MLB website. Those accommodations include a private entrance, cushioned seats, all inclusive food and in-seat wait service.

In a humorous moment, prosecutor Brandon Van Grack on Friday asked Kirimca to explain what the New York Yankees is, prompting Kirimca to explain that it’s a Major League Baseball team.

Evidence about Manafort’s season tickets has slowly trickled in throughout Manafort’s Virginia trial, and Friday’s testimony from Kirimca completed the circle.

As an employee from the Federal Savings Bank testified earlier on Friday, Manafort had a $300,000 outstanding balance on his credit card when he applied for a loan as of February 2016. Manafort’s former deputy Rick Gates testified earlier this week that in order to explain away this liability, Manafort had Gates write a letter claiming that he borrowed Manafort’s card to purchase the tickets but had not yet paid him back.

Kirimca testified Friday afternoon that the Yankees have no record of Gates purchasing tickets and that Manafort was a season ticket holder through 2017.

In an email with Yankees employees in March of 2016 shown in court, Manafort confirmed enthusiastically that he and his wife would be attending opening day for the team that year.

An email chain from November 2011 indicated that at that time, Manafort was paying for his tickets with money from foreign accounts. Manafort told an employee for the Yankees to expect a $226,800 wire from one of the foreign accounts he allegedly used as payment for his 2012 season tickets.

Read More →

ALEXANDRIA, VA — Dennis Raico, a witness who worked at a bank that extended Paul Manafort $16 million in loans, testified at Manafort’s trial Friday that Manafort was approved for the first of these loans the day after a meeting with the bank’s CEO Stephen Calk. During the meeting, Raico said, Calk expressed interest in working for Donald Trump.

The meeting took place on July 27, 2016, with Calk videoconferencing in and Raico and Jeffrey Yohai, Manafort’s then-son in law, in attendance.

Manafort submitted the loan documents to the bank, Federal Savings Bank in Chicago, that day. Raico testified that he never saw a loan approved so quickly. The proposed loan was a construction loan for Manafort and Yohai for a property in California.

On Aug. 3, Manafort emailed Raico seeking Calk’s resume. Early that month, while Manafort was still chair of the Trump campaign, Calk became an economic adviser to Trump. Manafort left the Trump campaign on Aug. 19.

Raico testified that Manafort continued to pass messages along to Calk through him. Raico said that on Nov. 11, 2016, three days after the election, Calk called Raico and told him that he hadn’t heard from Manafort in a couple of days and that he thought that he would “possibly be up for some role” in the Trump administration. He asked Raico to call Manafort.

But Raico said he did not make the call. “It made me very uncomfortable,” Raico testified.

Throughout Raico’s testimony, prosecutors submitted evidence suggesting that Manafort provided false or misleading information to the bank while applying for the loan, including what appear to be inflated income statements for his consulting firm.

Among the documents they questioned Raico about was the apparently doctored DMP financial statement the prosecutors had previously admitted into evidence last week, when Manafort’s bookkeeper testified that her company’s records for Manafort showed his business income to be millions of dollars less than what was reported on the statement submitted to the bank.

U.S. District T.S. Ellis wouldn’t let prosecutors question Raico about the details in the financial record, which included the mispelling of the word “September,” after the defense objected since Raico had testified that he had not analyzed the document at the time Manafort was applying for the loan.,

Testimony and evidence also suggested that Manafort blamed a $300,000 delinquency on his credit card on Rick Gates borrowing the card to purchase Yankees tickets, even though Gates previously testified that he did not buy the tickets. Raico said the details about debt were important to the bank as it processed the loan.

Raico also testified that Calk was “very involved” in approving the loans and had lunch meetings with Manafort without other bank employees present. Raico said that the two discussed the terms of the loan during those lunches and that Calk dictated the terms of the first loan approved for Manafort after the two lunched together.

Prosecutors also showed an Oct. 21, 2016 email in which the president of Federal Savings Bank Javier Ubarri told Raico and other employees that they would not move forward with the construction loan Manafort was seeking. Two days prior, while at  the closing table, Manafort had balked at how expensive the loan was going to be for him to pay for, due to certain New York taxes.

“Let’s all stay friends, move on and go our own way,” Ubarri wrote in an email. When he was cross-examined by the defense, Raico clarified that Ubarri was referring to the construction loan and not the kind of loan that Manafort would ultimately be extended.

Raico testified that he had spoken to Calk earlier in the day and that Calk had said they would move forward with a new loan proposal. That $9.5 million loan, which would ultimately close on November 16, would be a mortgage for Manafort solely on his Hamptons home.

Asked if Calk had approved the new loan proposal between Ubarri’s email and when Raico wrote Ubarri back later that day to inform him that Calk was moving forward in his Manafort negotiations, Raico testified, “I believe so.”

During the approval process for the restructured $9.5 million loan, Manafort told Calk in an email that he “must have had a blackout” and mistakenly given Calk the wrong information on his mortgage on the Hamptons home, according to an email shown during Raico’s testimony.

“I look to your cleverness on how to manage the underwriting,” Manafort wrote later in the email to Calk.

Calk responded that he would look into it and suggested Manafort may need to use his Virginia home as collateral for the loan.

During his cross-examination, Manafort attorney Richard Westling questioned Raico on the appraised value of the properties he put up as collateral for the home, to suggest that since the collateral was worth more than the loans themselves, the loans were less risky for the bank.

Manafort’s former deputy, Rick Gates, testified earlier this week that Calk later unsuccessfully sought a job in the Trump administration with Manafort’s assistance. In a Nov. 24, 2016 email, Manafort wrote to Gates, “Rick, we need to discuss Steve Calk for Sec. of Army. I hear the list is being considered this weekend.” Gates had stayed on the Trump campaign after Manafort left in August.

Gates testified that Manafort also helped Calk secure tickets to the inauguration.

Manafort is on trial here facing bank and tax fraud charges. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Previous witnesses at the trial have indicated that, during the period in question, Manafort’s income from working as a political consultant overseas had dried up. Manafort managed the Trump campaign for free.

An FBI search warrant that was partially unsealed earlier this summer alleged that Manafort made “several materially inconsistent representations during the process of negotiating” loans with Federal Savings Bank, and Mueller’s team alleges that Calk knew that the loans his bank extended to Manafort were fraudulent. During a pretreial hearing, Judge T.S. Ellis asked prosecutor Greg Andres whether Calk knew the information on Manafort’s loan application was inaccurate. “He did,” Andres replied at the time.

Manafort was later approved for a $6.5 million construction loan for his home on Union Street in New York, and closed on that loan on Jan. 4, 2016, before Trump was sworn into office.

Correction: This post originally reported that the $300,000 delinquency on Paul Manafort’s credit card was $30,000.

Read More →

ALEXANDRIA, VA — U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis on Friday morning delayed the Paul Manafort trial until 1:45 p.m. ET that afternoon, after a morning he spent in a series of private discussions with both parties’ attorneys at his bench, as well as an extended recess.

He did not indicate what exactly the issue was when he announced the brief delay. However, he did call the jury in and had them take roll. He also repeatedly urged the jurors to keep an open mind about the trial and not to discuss it with anyone.

He gives similar instructions at every day’s proceedings, but on Friday morning he said he needed to “underscore” those rules while thanking the jurors for their “continued adherence” to them.

Before proceedings in the Manafort trial began Friday morning, the judge dealt with two other matters, a sentencing and a sealed case. When Ellis came back after a brief recess, he had two separate bench conferences with attorneys from both sides of the Manafort case.

The first bench conference was brief, and Ellis concluded it by calling a five-minute recess. During that time Manafort stood in a huddle with his entire defense team. It’s unclear what they were talking about, but it appeared to be a serious discussion.

When Ellis returned from the brief recess, he again called another bench conference, this one lasting about 10 minutes, longer than previous bench conferences have lasted in this trial. During the second bench conference, Ellis called up the court security officer, which was also unusual.

Ellis called yet another recess at 10:15 a.m. and said it would last about 15 minutes, but he was away from the courtroom for close to an hour. During this time, the entire legal team arguing this trial for special counsel Robert Mueller and most of the members of the defense team were out of the room, while Manafort waited with two of his lawyers.

When Ellis came back a few minutes past 11 a.m., he brought in the jury and told them that lawyers would “continue with the evidence in the afternoon.” He then told the jury not to discuss the case and mentioned that he sometimes has to deal with matters unrelated to the Manafort trial, making it unclear whether the delay was due to an issue related to the Manafort trial or another matter entirely.

“I assure you this is all necessary,” Ellis said.

Ellis has two court filings on his docket for the case, at least publicly, remained unresolved. One is a request filed by the prosecutors that the judge address for the jury a remark he made in the proceedings Thursday. He had told the prosecutors, while they were questioning an employee at bank were Manafort unsuccessfully sought a loan, that they “might want to spend time on a loan that was granted.” Prosecutors said Ellis’ comment “misrepresents the law” on the bank fraud charges and want him to correct the record.

They made a similar request for a comment Ellis made on Wednesday, which Ellis dealt with promptly with a mea culpa on Thursday.

The second issue that Ellis has yet to announce a ruling on is prosecutors’ request to ask a witness additional questions about their charge that Manafort failed to file with the U.S. Treasury foreign bank reports for his overseas accounts. Manafort’s attorneys filed their response to the request on Friday, and it did not appear on the docket until after Ellis had already started his morning proceedings. Ellis has typically, however, dealt with the attorneys’ fights over evidence in open court, as long as the jury isn’t present, which they were not for most of Friday morning.

Update, 4:53 p.m.: When the trial reconvened Friday afternoon, Judge Ellis gave no more hints about what issue he and the attorneys had been dealing with in the morning. The lawyers for both parties entered the court room at around 1:30 p.m., and the public and the press were allowed in a few minutes later.

Only two of the defense lawyers — the same two who mostly were not involved in the morning bench discussions — were in the courtroom, sitting with Manafort. It was not clear to TPM whether the prosecutors and the other defense attorneys were in chambers with the judge.

Regardless, Ellis did not emerge from his chambers to reconvene the trial until about 2:20 p.m. A court security guard left Ellis’ chambers a little after 2:00 p.m. and went to the jury room, only to travel back from the jury room to the chambers five minutes later.

Read More →

It appears some posts are too anti-Semitic even for Gab, the social media platform that positions itself as the “politically incorrect” alternative to Twitter.

A pair of messages posted on Gab calling for the “ritual death by torture” and “complete eradication” of Jews nearly got the site shut down. Microsoft, which hosts Gab on its cloud service Azure, on Thursday threatened to drop the site over the inciteful posts before backing down after the user agreed to remove them voluntarily.

The 24-hour saga was the latest in an uncomfortable dance between web platforms trying to restrict hate speech and far-right actors like Alex Jones, who claim they’re being censored for sharing conspiracy theories and denigrating people on the basis of their gender or religion.

Gab celebrated its momentary victory by posting a stream of blatantly anti-Semitic—but not violent—messages on its Twitter feed.

The back-and-forth began Thursday, when Microsoft told Gab it had 48 hours to remove the posts for violating its acceptable use policy. Gab posted all of its back-and-forths with Microsoft publicly.

The user, a California neo-Nazi who challenged Sen. Dianna Feinstein (D-CA) for her Senate seat, agreed to take them down in order to keep the site active.

“We will have no rights until the jews are expelled,” Patrick Little wrote in a message lamenting that he was forced to “self-censor.”

Microsoft responded with an email saying that the matter was now “closed” but that they would monitor and act on complaints “about similar content that seeks to incite violence against others.”

Gab’s Twitter account responded with a stream of messages that exemplified the site’s definition of free speech: having permission to disparage Jewish people and minorities without consequences.

“Let’s get this through our heads: anti-white ‘hate speech’ and calls for violence/genocide of whites= allowed on the internet,” read one post. “Say anything about Jews or minorities though and you’re screwed.”

“’Hate speech’ is free speech. Retweet if you agree,” read another.

The account also directed several anti-Semitic messages at #Resistance Twitter figure Brian Krassenstein, urging him to “move to Israel” and citing a Bible verse that refers to some Jews as belonging to “the synagogue of Satan.”

Gab didn’t immediately respond to TPM’s question about who runs the account.

But these comments are rather milquetoast compared to much of what can be found on Gab, a hub for the misogynists, racists and anti-Semites who compose the alt-right.

Many of those individuals flocked to Gab when web hosting and social media companies deplatformed prominent white nationalists after last August’s violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

A new wave of deplatforming is currently underway as that event’s one-year anniversary approaches. Apple, Spotify and Facebook have all removed content posted by Infowars’ Jones for promoting hate speech and harassment.

Read More →

Following testimony on a $3.4 million loan obtained by Paul Manafort in 2016 from employees at Citizen’s Bank, a third employee testified that Manafort’s application for a $5.5 million construction loan from that bank was denied later in the year.

Manafort was working on the Trump campaign as he worked with the bank to obtain the loan.

Emails shown during the testimony of Taryn Rodriguez, a loan officer assistant at Citizen’s Bank, indicate that Manafort applied for the construction loan on his property on Union Street in Brooklyn in early 2016 and engaged with bank employees about the loan until mid-August 2016.

Rodriguez testified that she discovered that Manafort had a mortgage on his Union Street property, a fact he and his deputy Rick Gates allegedly hid while applying for another loan at Citizen’s Bank that was approved. An email shown by prosecutors indicated that bank employees discovered this loan just a few days after Manafort closed on a loan for his Howard Street property, located in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan.

Documents shown by prosecutors and  Rodriguez’s testimony indicated that Manafort and Gates submitted a letter from their accountant claiming that a $1.5 million loan was forgiven in 2015 and a 2016 profit and loss statement. Testimony from earlier in the trial suggested that both of those documents were doctored in some way to inflate Manafort’s income.

Read More →

ALEXANDRIA, VA — Paul Manafort would have not received $1 million commercial loan for he and his then son-in-law if the bank knew that he had exaggerated his business income by 11-fold, a witness at his ongoing trial testified Thursday.

Gary Seferian — an employee at the bank that approved the loan in May 2016, while Manafort was leading the Trump campaign — was questioned about a financial statement prosecutors had previously shown was doctored to show his consulting firm’s income to have been about $4.5 million. The “actual” statement, in the prosecutors’ words, that Manafort’s bookkeeper previously testified to be legitimate showed the firm’s income for that year to be $400,000.

Seferian said Manafort “would not have qualified” for the $1 million commercial loan, which Manafort and his daughter’s then-husband Jeffrey Yohai  had claimed they were going to use to flip homes in Los Angeles.

Seferian was one of a number of bank employees who testified Thursday about loan applications filed by Manfort filed in late December through early March,  just before he joined Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

One loan discussed Thursday was a $3.4 million mortgage on a Manafort condo in Monday that he closed on March 4, where prosecutors suggested his loan application included falsities; another allegedly fraudulent application  that witnesses testified about Thursday was eventually turned down.

Manafort is facing charges of bank fraud and tax fraud, mostly stemming from consulting work he did in Ukraine predating the 2016 American presidential election. He has pleaded not guilty.

His attorneys sought to poke holes in the prosecutors’ narrative about the loans. His lawyer Jay Nanavatti defended the doctored document in questioning that suggested it was simply using a different method of accounting to show what Manafort’s firm earned in 2015.

As for the $3.4 million loan Manafort, asked questions that cast doubt over whether Manafort was to blame for the appearance of the false information on the final loan application

The government called bank employees, as well as an Airbnb company official, to suggest that Manafort misled the bank in the process of applying for the loan on the condo, dubbed the “Howard Street” property.

With the morning testimony of Melinda James, a mortgage loan assistant at Citizen’s Bank, prosecutors pointed to the failure of Manafort, at the time of closing on the Howard Street condo, to disclose a separate loan he had obtained on another property of his in New York. They also asked James about his allegedly false claim in the loan docs that the Manhattan property was a second residence, rather than a rental.

James said that both details would have affected the terms of his loan, a claim that was backed up by another bank employee in charge of analyzing loan applications, who testified later in the afternoon.

Citizens Bank underwriter Peggy Miceli said that, without going through a special exceptions process, the maximum loan Manafort could receive by taking it out on a rental property was $1 million, and that rental properties were not even eligible for the specific kind of loan Manafort successfully sought.

Prosecutors also brought to the stand Darin Evenson, an Airbnb employee who testified on the rental company’s business records associated with Manafot’s Manhattan condo. The records showed that the Airbnb listing for the two-bedroom condo — advertised as “Amazing Full Floor Loft in SoHo” — was pulled from the website on February 26, 2016 and re-listed on March 27, three weeks after Manafort closed on the loan.

James, the bank employee, read emails and documents that claimed Manafort was using the Howard Street property as a second home. At one point, prosecutors displayed an email from Manafort to Jeff Yohai — his then son-in-law who was listed on the condo’s Airbnb account — telling him to “Remember” that an appraiser hired by the bank to inspect the property “believes that you and Jessica are living there.”

In his cross-examination of the Airbnb employee, Manafort attorney Jay Nanevatti’s questions hinted at the possibility that Manafort’s daughter and then-husband were in fact living at the Manhattan condo many days of the year, and Evenson confirmed that some three-quarters of Airbnb hosts list their primary residences for rental on the website.

Nanevatti also pointed Evenson to the “house rules” listed for the condo on its listing, according to Airbnb records: “As you expect me to behave in your home.”

Nanevatti, in his questioning of the Citizens Bank employees, focused on muddying the waters around what Manafort told the bank when about separate loan on the other New York property. That $5.3 million loan was taken on Manafort’s Brooklyn townhouse on February 9, and Miceli had testified for prosecutors that if the bank had known about that loan, it would have affected the loan’s value and rate.

Nanevatti emphasized that at the beginning of the loan application process, documents show that Manafort had not yet closed on the loan on his Union Street property. He zeroed in on emails sent by Manafort on February 24 to the bank saying that he had been approved of a loan on the Brooklyn property, as well as insurance documents sent to the bank the day before showing that loan.

James, however, also said that Manafort’s use of the word “approve” didn’t lead her to believe that it had been finalized; it’s common for borrowers to shop around to multiple banks during the process. She also testified that Rick Gates told her over the phone, after Manafort’s February 24 email, that they weren’t moving forward with the loan, and that night Gates sent her an email with insurances docs showing no loan on the property. She said she didn’t realize that those docs, dated for 2015, were actually older than the more recent documents Manafort had previously sent the bank.

To fill in some of the holes Manafort’s attorneys had poked in government’s case, prosecutor Uzo Asonye highlighted that Manafort was copied on emails Gates sent with the outdated outdated insurance documents.

Read More →

ALEXANDRIA, VA — After being chastised repeatedly by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis in front of the jury during Paul Manafort’s ongoing trial in Virginia, the prosecutors arguing the case appear to have had enough. On Thursday, they filed a court filing taking issue with Ellis’s outburst over a government witness who had watched the full trial before being called to the stand.

Ellis told the jury Thursday morning to “put aside any criticism” of the prosecutors. “I sometimes make mistakes,” Ellis said.

The prosecutors had asked Ellis on July 31 to permit the presence of the expert witness, IRS tax expert Michael Welch, in the courtroom for the proceedings. Thursday’s filing includes an excerpt of the transcript with Ellis explicitly granting the request and even asking the name of the expert.

On Wednesday when the government called Welch and asked him if he had heard previous witnesses testimony, Ellis blew up at prosecutor Uzo Asonye.

Thursday’s filing asked for the judge to address the issue in front of the jury at the start of the day’s proceedings and correct “the court’s erroneous admonishment” of the prosecutors.

This is not the first time prosecutors pushed back on Ellis for his admonishments. At a bench conference last week prosecutor Greg Andres brought up the judge continuing to suggest that the government is making mistakes. We don’t have “to be chastised in front of the jury for every mistake,” Andres said.

Ellis pushed back. He told the prosecutors to “get it right” and said that they “haven’t been chastised for every mistake.”

Asonye brought up the court filing to Ellis at the beginning of Thursday’s proceedings. “You’re to put that aside,” Ellis told the jury about the issue. “I may well have been wrong.”

Read More →

ALEXANDRIA, VA — Paul Manafort’s businesses between 2010 and 2014 collected more than $16 million in income that it failed to report to the IRS, according to the testimony of an IRS official Wednesday at Maanfort’s trial in Virginia for tax fraud and bank fraud.

Michael Welch, a revenue agent for the IRS, said that he came to that estimation by using Manafort’s own approach of only reporting income once it hit the U.S. He offered other versions of the analysis that estimated Manafort’s unreported income on the basis of when it landed in foreign entities prosecutors have linked to the former Trump campaign chairman. The estimates yielded by that approach were also “conservative,” Welch said, because he considered certain wires from foreign accounts — including those for a Florida dentist, a New Jersey horseback riding account and “International Yacht Collection” — to be business expenses that can be deducted from Manafort’s income.

He was following the testimony of Morgan Magionos, an FBI forensic accountant for who explained a chart she created showing that more than $15 million was wired from Manafort-controlled foreign accounts to pay for goods, services and real estate that Manafort and his family purchased between 2010 and 2014.

Their emotionless testimony was an atmospheric comedown to the day and half Manafort’s former co-defendant and longtime business deputy Rick Gates spent on the stand. His explosive testimony, which started Monday afternoon and stretched through Wednesday morning, included damning revelations about Manafort’s involvement in the alleged crimes as well as to his admissions to other crimes and embarrassing conduct not related to the current charges.

Manafort is accused of tax and bank fraud, much of it related to his work as a political operative in Ukraine before joining the Trump campaign. Prosecutors allege that the money was income that Manafort hid from his accountants and bookkeepers by wiring it directly to vendors, many of whom testified for the government earlier in the ongoing Virginia trial. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Magianos walked prosecutors on Wednesday afternoon through how she created the charts tracking the flow of money from Manafort’s foreign accounts to his real-estate purchases and to vendors who sold him goods and services.

Among the evidence prosecutors presented during Magionos’ testimony were documents used to open the foreign bank accounts, which included Manafort’s name and even copies of the front page of his passport. Magionos testified that emails from Manafort instructed a Cypriot law firm to complete certain wire transfers that aligned with invoices from the vendors. In the emails, which prosecutors displayed for the court, Manafort described the foreign accounts as “my” accounts.

Magionos also explained a chart she created showing the money that flowed into the foreign accounts that prosecutors have linked to Manafort. She said that much of the money flowed in from entities linked to Ukrainians who were funding Manafort’s political work.

In his cross-examination Manafort attorney Richard Westling asked Magionos about the signatures on some of the bank records that were referenced in her charts. Westling asked her about the differences between different signatures, suggesting that not all of the documents with Manafort’s signature were actually signed by Manafort.

Magionos conceded that there were differences but also pointed out that funds from the bank account in question largely benefitted Manafort.

Read More →

ALEXANDRIA, VA — Throughout Paul Manafort’s trial here, witnesses have indicated that Manafort started running out of cash when his Ukraine work dried up in 2014. This apparent reduction in income appears to have prompted Manafort, along with his deputy Rick Gates, to submit false or misleading documents to banks to obtain loans.

Although we’ve seen a lot of the numbers throughout the trial, Tuesday offered the best glimpse into just how worried Manafort was about paying bills, specifically his tax bill. An email submitted into evidence on Tuesday and made available to the press Tuesday night shows Manafort reacting angrily to the amount of taxes he owed on his 2014 tax returns.

“WTF?” Manafort wrote in the email to Gates dated April 17, 2015. “How could I be blindsided like this. You told me you were on top of this.”

“We need to discuss options. This is a disaster,” Manafort continued in the email. “When am I supposed to write this check?”

The email from Manafort came after Gates informed him that the tax accountants had calculated that Manafort would have an increase in taxes of about $509,000 in 2014. Gates testified on Tuesday that the email chain took place when Manafort’s accountants revealed that the actual amount owed by Manafort in taxes would be higher than they had projected earlier.

Gates told Manafort in the email that he was working with the accountants on ways to possibly reduce the amount of taxes Manafort would owe as a result of his 2014 return.

Read the entire email chain below:

Read More →

LiveWire