ALEXANDRIA, Va.–A jury began deliberations in Virginia on Aug. 16 in the trial of Paul Manafort, a veteran political consultant who faces bank and tax fraud charges that could put him behind bars for years.
The six men and six women received final instructions from U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis before retreating to a room in the federal courthouse in Alexandria, outside Washington, to weigh the 18 criminal counts brought against Manafort, 69, by special counsel Robert Mueller.
The case is the first to go to trial stemming from Mueller’s investigation into allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The charges in the trial are unrelated to the Trump campaign or collusion and largely predate Manafort’s five months working on Trump’s campaign, including three as chairman.
Trump has called Mueller’s investigation a witch hunt and has complained about Manafort’s treatment.
“You can’t talk about the case unless all 12 of you are present,” Ellis told the jurors, adding that they could take as long as they like to reach a verdict.
Ellis began the jury instructions on Aug. 15 after the prosecution and defense delivered closing arguments, and finished on Aug. 16 morning. By midafternoon, jurors had not asked any questions of the judge as they deliberated.
If convicted on all counts, Manafort could face a sentence of up to 305 years in prison based on the maximum for each count, with the most serious charge carrying up to 30 years. However, if convicted, he likely would be given between seven and 12 years, according to a range of estimates from three sentencing experts interviewed by Reuters.
Prosecutors called 27 witnesses during about two weeks of testimony in the closely watched trial. The defense called no witnesses, arguing that prosecutors failed to prove their case.
The case involved millions of dollars Manafort received from politicians in Ukraine for work as a political consultant. Prosecutors accused Manafort of concealing more than $16 million in income from U.S. tax authorities and fraudulently securing $20 million in bank loans.
Witnesses described how Manafort routed $16 million in income hidden in foreign bank accounts to U.S. vendors to purchase real estate, expensive clothing and antique rugs, income he is charged with omitting from his tax returns.
Manafort, a veteran political consultant and prominent figure in Republican circles for decades, made his fortune helping to bring politician Viktor Yanukovych to power in Ukraine in 2010. When Yanukovych fled Ukraine in 2014, the political work dried up and Manafort lied about his finances to get loans from banks, prosecutors said.
Defense lawyers argued that prosecutors had not proved Manafort willfully committed any crimes. They said he trusted employees, his accountants and bookkeeper to handle his financial affairs, and at times misplaced that trust.
The defense attacked the credibility of key prosecution witness Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime right-hand man who also worked for Trump’s campaign and inauguration team. Gates was indicted by Mueller but pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors.
While some legal experts predicted the jury would reach a verdict before the weekend, others felt jurors would likely deliberate longer, given the complexity and historic nature of the case.