Trump Ex-Aide Manafort to Seek Dismissal of New York Charges

NEW YORK (Reuters) -
Paul Manafort departs a motions hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, in April, 2018. (Reuters/Al Drago/File Photo)

Paul Manafort, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, will ask a judge to dismiss criminal charges against him in New York, his lawyer told Reuters, in a case that will test the state’s double jeopardy protections.

Todd Blanche, who represents Manafort, said the New York charges are tied to the same conduct for which the veteran Republican political consultant was prosecuted in federal court. Manafort has been charged in New York with residential mortgage fraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records.

“You cannot be tried for the same facts in New York,” said Blanche, offering a glimpse of his legal strategy ahead of Manafort’s expected transfer to the state this month to face the charges. “We will plead not guilty.”

The New York indictment was disclosed by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance on March 13, minutes after Manafort received his second and final federal sentence. Manafort, 70, is now in a federal prison in Pennsylvania to serve a combined 7-1/2 years in prison on tax fraud, bank fraud and other charges stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Manafort, who was paid millions of dollars for consultant work he performed for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, was prosecuted in two federal cases, one in Virginia and one in Washington, D.C.

The New York charges were widely seen as an effort by Vance to ensure that Manafort serves significant prison time even if Trump pardons him, a prospect the Republican president has not ruled out. A U.S. president can issue pardons only for federal crimes.

The state indictment does not identify the banks involved in Manafort’s alleged mortgage fraud. But it appears to relate to nearly $20 million in mortgages from Citizens Bank and the Federal Savings Bank for New York properties. Those mortgages were at issue in the special counsel’s Virginia case.

Under New York law, a person cannot be prosecuted twice for the same act unless at least one element of the crimes is distinct and the statutes involved address “very different kinds of harm or evil.” Vance’s office could argue that such an exception to New York’s double jeopardy protections is warranted in this case.

In addition, the jury in Manafort’s Virginia trial deadlocked on 10 charges. Two of those were related to Citizens Bank and four stemmed from Federal Savings Bank loans. Vance is likely to argue that the hung counts open the door for another prosecution, legal experts said.

Blanche does not see it that way. He said that “jeopardy attaches as soon as a jury is sworn in” regardless of whether it deadlocks, convicts or acquits the defendant.

A spokeswoman for Vance’s office declined to comment.

Duncan Levin, a former federal and New York state prosecutor under Vance who is not involved in the case, said he expects a judge to dismiss some of the state charges while allowing others to go forward, including those related to the deadlocked counts.

“The bad news for Manafort is for at least a certain portion of this case there is no double jeopardy defense at all,” Levin said.

Once Manafort is arraigned in New York, he could end up at Rikers Island, a troubled city jail complex, pending trial.