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U.S. Prosecutors Detail Lavish Spending Of Trump’s Ex-Campaign Chief

Former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort is shown in a courtroom sketch as he sits in federal court on the opening day of his trial on bank- and tax-fraud charges stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, in Alexandria, Virginia, on July 31.

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia -- U.S. prosecutors drilled deep into Paul Manafort’s lavish lifestyle and spending habits, as they continued building their case that President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman committed bank fraud and tax evasion.

Prosecutors spent the second day of Manafort's trial presenting more invoices and witness testimony as they detailed wire transfers from Cypriot shell companies that, officials allege, were used to hide millions of dollars of income from his lobbying work in Ukraine.

The trial, being held in U.S. federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, is the first to grow out of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's sprawling investigation into the interactions between Trump associates and Russian officials.

The 18 charges against Manafort predate his time managing Trump’s presidential election campaign in 2016. Though the charges concern the work he did in Ukraine for former President Viktor Yanukovych, they don’t directly deal with Russia, nor with questions of Trump officials' interactions with Russian officials.

In the August 1 proceedings, U.S. prosecutors called a series of witnesses -- including a suit tailor, a home renovator, a real-estate agent, and a landscape designer -- to testify how Manafort paid them using wire transfers from offshore accounts.

The transfers allegedly came from various shell companies -- mainly based in Cyprus -- that authorities say Manafort used to hide his income.

Dressed in a suit and tie, Manafort sat quietly throughout the proceedings, nodding occasionally as he listened to testimony.

Maximillian Katzman, who worked at a high-end New York tailor, testified that Manafort spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on bespoke suits between 2010-2014. In 2013, according to prosecutors, he spent more than $440,000.

Katzman said Manafort was his only client who paid via international wire transfer.

Another witness, Doug DeLuca, described how Manafort hired him to design an outdoor space, including a custom-made pergola, for a suburban Washington home for his daughter, Andrea -- a home that cost nearly $1.9 million.

The testimony on August 1 followed the pattern that prosecutors began to sketch a day earlier, where they described a $21,000 watch he had purchased and a $15,000 ostrich jacket.

U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis repeatedly interrupted prosecutors as they made their case, including to make the point that being wealthy and having an extravagant lifestyle were not crimes.

"I understand this effort that he lived lavishly, but that's beside the point," he told prosecutors.

"The government doesn't want to prosecute someone because they wear nice clothing, do they?" he said at another point.

Earlier in the day, Ellis warned against using the pejorative term "oligarchs" to describe wealthy Ukrainians, and criticized prosecutors for spending so much time listing Manafort's wealth and lavish lifestyle.

In addition to highlighting how Manafort paid for his clothing and cars, prosecutors also repeatedly mentioned Manafort's former deputy, Rick Gates, who has pleaded guilty to related charges and may testify for the prosecution later.

They also several times mentioned Konstantin Kilimnik, a shadowy Russian-Ukrainian who was Manafort's key interlocutor in Ukraine for years and is believed to have ties to Russian military intelligence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye, meanwhile, told the judge that the prosecution was running "ahead of schedule" and was expected to complete its case next week.

Once that happens, Manafort's defense team will present its case to try and persuade the 12-member jury of his innocence.

If the trial continues quickly, it could wrap up before a second, more consequential, trial against Manafort begins in September.

That trial, in U.S. federal court in Washington, D.C., focuses on allegations that Manafort failed to register as a foreign agent when he was working for Yanukovych and his Ukrainian political party.

While Manafort's case is the first that Mueller has brought to trial, Mueller has indicted 31 other people on dozens of charges, including conspiracy, failure to register as foreign agents, and lying to federal law enforcement. That includes 12 Russian military intelligence officers who were charged with hacking and leaking Democratic Party documents to sway the election in favor of Trump, a Republican.

Others who have pleaded guilty to Mueller charges include Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Trump has repeatedly attacked Mueller’s investigation, denying any effort by him or his associates to collude with Russian officials to sway the election.

On August 1, Trump renewed his criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from overseeing Mueller’s probe because of his role as an adviser to Trump's election campaign.

"This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further," Trump wrote in a Twitter post.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent in Prague, where he reports on developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and money laundering. Before joining RFE/RL in 2015, he worked for the Associated Press in Moscow. He has also reported and edited for The Christian Science Monitor, Al Jazeera America, Voice of America, and the Vladivostok News.