By Sarah N. Lynch and Karen Freifeld
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The special counsel in the Russia probe filed new criminal charges on Thursday against President Donald Trump’s former campaign aides Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, stepping up pressure in a legal battle that started last year.
The 32-count indictment filed by Robert Mueller in Alexandria, Virginia, federal court includes charges of bank fraud and lying on tax returns. It alleges that Manafort, with Gates’ assistance, laundered more than $30 million and duped banks into lending money. It says the pair used funds from secret offshore accounts to enjoy a life of luxury.
Manafort and Gates already face criminal charges by Mueller’s office in federal court in Washington, D.C., that include conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy to defraud the United States and failure to register as foreign agents for political work they did for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.
The pair were among the first to be charged as part of Mueller’s ongoing investigation into whether the Trump presidential campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Russia has denied meddling in the campaign and Trump has denied any collusion took place. The probe has shadowed Trump’s year-old presidency.
The latest charges against Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager for five months in 2016, and Gates, who was deputy campaign manager, do not mention their work for the Trump campaign.
Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, said Manafort is innocent of the new charges which, he noted, “have nothing to do with Russia and 2016 election interference/collusion.”
Thomas Green, a new lawyer for Gates, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Michael Zeldin, a former special assistant to Mueller at the Justice Department, said the new charges “substantially increased the sentencing exposure Manafort and Gates would face upon conviction” at trial. The bank fraud charges, for example, carry up to 30 years in prison.
“It enhances the pressure each of them should feel to work out a plea and cooperation agreement.”
Manafort and Gates have both pleaded not guilty to the charges brought in the D.C. court in October. A trial in the Washington case has been expected sometime in the autumn.
Earlier this year, Manafort filed a civil complaint against Mueller’s office alleging the special counsel exceeded his authority by bringing charges that were not connected to the 2016 election.
“The White House has repeatedly declined to comment on the Manafort and Gates matter as it has nothing to do with the White House or the campaign,” White House lawyer Ty Cobb said in response to the latest indictment.
The new indictment charges wrongdoing as recently as January 2017 and alleges that Manafort and Gates were desperate for cash when their lobbying business dried up, after pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was forced to flee to Russia after being ousted from power.
They were able to secure more than $20 million in loans by falsely inflating the income of Manafort and his lobbying firm and failing to disclose existing debt, the indictment says.
Money was allegedly funneled through offshore bank accounts and corporate entities in countries such as Cyprus.
According to the charges, the pair also did not report their ownership of the foreign bank accounts to U.S. tax preparers.
They also filed tax returns for 2010 to 2014 that they knew were not correct, the indictment charges.
It alleges that Gates paid for personal expenses, his children’s tuition and interior decorating with the money from the offshore accounts.
The fund transfers used to pay for the luxury goods were not reported as income, and some of the money was masked as “loans” that Manafort used to buy real estate, such as property in New York City, the indictment says.
The latest indictment also alleges that Manafort, Gates and an unnamed “conspirator” in at least one instance, lied on loan applications to tap cash after their Ukraine business dried up.
Manafort’s Brooklyn brownstone, for instance, was purchased for $3 million in cash through a Cyprus-based entity he controlled. Later, he made false claims in seeking a loan in 2015 to renovate it, according to the indictment.
In another instance, Gates and Manafort doctored profit and loss statements from their firm to secure a business loan, the indictment says.
After a bookkeeper refused to include income that had not yet been received, Gates falsified it himself, it says.
Some of Manafort’s New York property loans also have been under investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, sources have told Reuters.
The local prosecutor issued subpoenas last year to lenders including Federal Savings Bank of Chicago, a small bank that provided millions in loans to Manafort, Reuters has reported.
Given the new indictment from Mueller, it is unclear whether Vance will pursue charges over the loans. A spokesman for Vance declined to comment.
A New York case could surface if Trump decided to pardon Manafort, since such pardons do not apply to state charges.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Karen Freifeld; Additional reporting by Nathan Layne in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)