Paul Manafort, Rick Gates Ran Bank Fraud Scheme During 2016 Campaign, New Robert Mueller Indictments Charge

Manuel Balce CenetaAP Images

Russia investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller slapped former Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort with a new 32-count indictment on Thursday, charging Manafort, and his longtime deputy, Rick Gates, with a bank fraud scheme that they allegedly pulled off at the same time the pair were working for Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign.

Both Manafort and Gates were hit with a 12-count indictment by Mueller last October, charging that they engaged in a complex scheme to launder millions of dollars from their work in Ukraine as political consultants for now-deposed Ukranian dictator Victor Yanukovich. The new indictments come just four days after reports surfaced that Gates was preparing to plead guilty to fraud-related charges, and would agree to testify against his business partner, Manafort.

How or even if the new indictments against both Manafort and Gates will affect the reportedly planned guilty plea remained unclear as of Thursday afternoon, but according to a Washington Post report, the new indictments may be designed to place additional pressure on both Gates and Manafort to “flip” and cooperate with Mueller’s investigation, possibly providing evidence against individuals deeper inside the Trump inner circle, or even Trump himself.

The new bank fraud charges come with a maximum 30 year prison sentence for each charge. The charges in the October indictments could have resulted in no more than 15 years for Manafort, 12 years for Gates, meaning that the new indictments raise the stakes considerably for both former Trump advisers.

The indictment accuses Manafort and Gates of a scheme to defraud multiple banks into issuing more than $20 million in loans between 2015 and “at least January 2017.” Read the full text of the new Mueller indictments against Manafort and Gates by visiting this link.

Paul Manafort, center, with Donald Trump, left, and Ivanka Trump, right, at the 2016 Republican National Convention, when Manafort was Trump's campaign manager. Featured image credit: Evan VucciAP Images

Trump hired Manafort, despite Manafort’s reputation as an international consultant for brutal political dictators, to work on his campaign in March of 2016, promoting him to campaign manager in June of that election year.

Manafort was fired over his Ukraine and Russia ties in August of 2016, but Gates stayed on with the Trump political team well past Trump’s inauguration, finally stepping down in March of 2017.

“Between approximately 2015 and at least January 2017, when the Ukraine income dwindled after Yanukovych fled to Russia, Manafort, with the assistance of Gates, extracted money from Manafort’s United States real estate by, among other things, using those properties as collateral to obtain loans from multiple financial institutions,” the indictment alleges. “Manafort and Gates fraudulently secured more than $20 million in loans by falsely inflating Manafort and his company’s income and by failing to disclose existing debt in order to qualify for the loans.”

The indictment also charges that the pair hid more than $75 million in offshore accounts, and laundered approximately $30 million in income, failing to pay taxes on that money as a result. Gates took more than $3 million from the offshore accounts, and hid that from the IRS as well, the indictment charges.

The new indictments include 16 counts of falsifying income tax returns, four counts of bank fraud, and five counts of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. According to the court documents signed by Mueller, the pair funneled their hidden and laundered money through accounts in Cyprus, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Seychelles islands, as well as other foreign countries.

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Former Donald Trump campaign official Rick Gates, departing federal court on February 14.Featured image credit: Alex BrandonAP Images

The new indictments were handed down by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia. Last October’s indictments against Manafort and Gates came out of a grand jury in Washington, D.C., meaning that both former Trump campaign officials could face trials in both locations, unless they decide to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation in exchange for a guilty plea on lesser charges.

The new indictments alleging a massive financial fraud scheme that would have taken place right under Trump’s proverbial nose during the campaign raise new questions about how and why Trump hired Manafort to run his campaign back in 2016.