Today was sentencing day for Paul J. Manafort Jr., President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, who was found guilty of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to file foreign bank account reports (FBAR) last August. After commenting that Manafort led an otherwise “blameless life,” U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis sentenced Manafort to 47 months in prison, well below the sentence that prosecutors had sought.

Most of the buzz on social media focused on the man and his character, while others questioned the sentencing terms. 

To recap, the charges focused on three areas: tax evasion, financial reporting, and bank fraud.

  • It’s against the law to lie on your tax return. The feds needed to prove that Manafort earned and had access to the income, and signed a tax return under penalty of perjury that omitted that income. In other words, prosecutors had to follow the money back to Manafort. 
  • Similarly, allegations of failure to file foreign bank account reports (FBAR) rest on proving a money trail. If a United States citizen has a financial interest in or signatory authority over any bank account or other financial account held in foreign countries, if the balance exceeds $10,000 at any time during the year, it must be reported. The government had to prove that Manafort had authority over foreign accounts for a jury to find him guilty of failing to report those accounts. That’s likely where some of the multiple entities Manafort and Gates allegedly set up helped Manafort’s defense: If the jury found that Gates had been responsible for some of the accounts, or if it was not clear whether Manafort had authority over those accounts, then he could not be found guilty of failing to report. In the end, the jury found Manafort guilty of one count of failure to report.
  • The government also claimed that Manafort, with Gates’ assistance, falsely inflated his company’s income by using fabricated profit and loss statements, and failed to disclose existing debt. A jury found the evidence credible enough to prove two of those counts.

(You can read more about the specific charges here.)

All of those charges are, according to court documents, offense level 4. Typically, the more serious the crime, the higher base offense levels. Federal sentencing guidelines provide 43 levels of offense seriousness, but additional factors, such as the amount of a financial loss, can increase or decrease the base offense level and the sentence an offender receives. 

If he had been found guilty of all of the charges against him, Manafort, who is 69, could have been sentenced to more than 100 years in prison. However, the jury could not reach a decision on all of the charges. For the eight counts, prosecutors argued that Manafort deserved to spend between 19 and 25 years in prison and pay millions of dollars in fines and restitution for the crimes. At sentencing, Prosecutor Greg Andres asked the Judge for a “substantial” sentence while Manafort’s attorney, Tom Zehnle, argued for leniency. Manafort also spoke on his own behalf.

Earlier in the day, Ellis opted not to give credit to Manafort for accepting responsibility for his crimes. You may recall that initially, Manafort was accused of showing little remorse about the crimes he had been accused of committing and lying about key pieces of the investigation.

Manafort will face another hearing next week in front of U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. In February of 2019, Judge Berman Jackson found that Manafort intentionally violated the terms of his guilty plea by lying to federal prosecutors and a grand jury as part of the Mueller investigation (you can read the decision here). That sentence could add up to 10 years of prison time for Manafort.


Kelly Erb is a tax attorney, tax writer and podcaster.

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