Court rules New York cannot prosecute Paul Manafort for double jeopardy charges

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A New York state appeals court upheld decisions by two lower courts to reject efforts from a Democratic prosecutor in Manhattan to charge former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort with mortgage fraud, citing the state’s rules against double jeopardy prosecutions.

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore of the State of New York Court of Appeals quietly issued a short one-page ruling last week denying New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s efforts to prosecute Manafort, who was pardoned of federal crimes by former President Donald Trump late last year.

Vance brought a 16-count indictment for state-level mortgage fraud and other charges against Manafort in March 2019 right after he was sentenced after a trial and a guilty plea in two cases as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Manafort was convicted in Virginia in 2018 on five counts of tax fraud, one count of concealing his foreign bank accounts, and two counts of bank fraud. The judge declared a mistrial on 10 other charges. Manafort had also been charged in a separate case with failing to register as a foreign lobbyist, money laundering, making false statements to investigators, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and witness tampering, and he pleaded guilty to just the final two charges in Washington, D.C., a month and a half after his trial conviction. In early 2019, Judge T.S. Ellis sentenced Manafort to 47 months in prison, and Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced him to another 43 months behind bars.

“No one is beyond the law in New York,” Vance said at the time, in what was widely seen as an effort to ensure charges were filed against Manafort even if he was pardoned. “Following an investigation commenced by our Office in March 2017, a Manhattan grand jury has charged Mr. Manafort with state criminal violations which strike at the heart of New York’s sovereign interests, including the integrity of our residential mortgage market.”

But Justice Maxwell Wiley of the New York State Supreme Court pushed back on Vance’s prosecution in December 2019, ruling the charges violated a state law against double jeopardy.

“The court concludes that, given the rather unique set of facts pertaining to defendant’s previous prosecution in federal court, and given New York’s law on this subject, defendant’s motion to dismiss the indictment as barred by state double jeopardy law must be granted,” the judge said.

A four-judge panel from the New York Appeals Court agreed in October 2020 that Vance’s charges were a violation of state double jeopardy laws. His final appeal met failure this month.

“As we have said from the time the District Attorney announced charges against Mr. Manafort, this is a case that should never have been brought because the dismissed indictment is a clear violation of New York law,” Manafort attorney Todd Blanche said Monday. “As the trial court held, and the Appellate Division affirmed, the People’s arguments ‘fall far short’ of triggering an exception to double jeopardy that would justify this prosecution.”

Andrew Weissmann, a prosecutor known as Mueller’s “pitbull” during the Russia investigation, argued in January that Biden’s Justice Department could still prosecute Manafort on the federal level due to what he claimed were gaps in Manafort’s pardon.

Manafort was released from prison in May to serve the remainder of his sentence under home confinement amid the coronavirus pandemic. Trump issued him a pardon just before Christmas.

“Today, President Trump has issued a full and complete pardon to Paul Manafort, stemming from convictions prosecuted in the course of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, which was premised on the Russian collusion hoax,” Trump’s White House said. “Mr. Manafort has already spent two years in prison, including a stretch of time in solitary confinement – treatment worse than what many of the most violent criminals receive. As a result of blatant prosecutorial overreach, Mr. Manafort has endured years of unfair treatment and is one of the most prominent victims of what has been revealed to be perhaps the greatest witch hunt in American history.”

Manafort, a GOP lobbyist who also spent years working overseas in places such as Ukraine, was the chairman of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign until he resigned in August 2016 after his foreign dealings and lobbying efforts came into the spotlight.

A Senate Intelligence Committee report released in August was unsparing in its assessment of Manafort, especially in regard to his close relationships with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and with Russian national Konstantin Kilimnik, whom Mueller said “the FBI assesses to have ties to Russian intelligence.” The senators concluded Kilimnik “is a Russian intelligence officer.”

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