U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced on Thursday by a U.S. judge to less than four years in prison - far shy of federal sentencing guidelines - for financial crimes uncovered during Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 election.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis imposed the surprisingly lenient 47-month sentence on Manafort, 69, during a hearing in Alexandria, Virginia, in which the veteran Republican political consultant asked for mercy but expressed no remorse for his actions.
Manafort was convicted by a jury last August of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to disclose foreign bank accounts.
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Ellis disregarded federal sentencing guidelines cited by prosecutors that called for 19-1/2 to 24 years in prison. The judge ordered Manafort to pay a fine of $50,000 and restitution of just over $24 million.
Manafort, brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair because of a condition called gout, listened during the hearing as Ellis extolled his "otherwise blameless" life in which he "earned the admiration of a number of people" and engaged in "a lot of good things."
"Clearly the guidelines were way out of whack on this," Ellis said.
Manafort was convicted after prosecutors accused him of hiding from the U.S. government millions of dollars he earned as a consultant for Ukraine's former pro-Russia government.
After pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's ouster, prosecutors said, Manafort lied to banks to secure loans and maintain an opulent lifestyle with luxurious homes, designer suits and even a $15,000 ostrich-skin jacket.
The judge also said Manafort "is not before the court for any allegations that he, or anyone at his direction, colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election."
The sentence was even less than the sentence recommended by Manafort's lawyers of 4-1/4 to 5-1/4 years in prison.
"These are serious crimes, we understand that," said Thomas Zehnle, one of Manafort's lawyers. "Tax evasion is by no means jaywalking. But it's not narcotics trafficking."
Legal experts expressed surprise over the sentence. "This is a tremendous defeat for the special counsel's office," former federal prosecutor David Weinstein said.
Manafort's sentence was less than half of what people who plead guilty and cooperate with the government typically get in similar cases, according to Mark Allenbaugh, a former attorney with the U.S. Sentencing Commission. "Very shocking," he said.
Ellis, appointed to the bench by Republican former President Ronald Reagan, called the sentence "sufficiently punitive," and noted that Manafort's time already served would be subtracted from the 47 months. Manafort has been jailed since June 2018.
Manafort's legal troubles are not over. He faces sentencing next Wednesday in Washington in a separate case for two conspiracy charges involving lobbying and money laundering to which he pleaded guilty last September.
Legal experts said the light sentence from Ellis could prompt U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to impose a sentence closer to the maximum of 10 years in the Washington case, and order that the sentence run after the current one is completed rather than concurrently. Jackson was appointed by Democratic former President Barack Obama.
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