Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is hurtling through its tax- and bank-fraud case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, with prosecutors predicting their case could wrap up as soon as next week.
Under constant pressure from U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis to keep their questioning brief and to the point, prosecutors whipped through eight witnesses Wednesday — all vendors who sold Manafort items like luxury suits or services like home remodeling. All indicated that payment for the bills Manafort ran up came from obscure companies in offshore banking havens like Cyprus or the Grenadines.
“I’m hopeful that we can finish this case much, much sooner than anyone expected,” Ellis said at the conclusion of the day’s session.
“We are on track to do that,” prosecutor Greg Andres said.
“There may be a slip between the cup and the lip between now and then,” the judge observed.
Andres said prosecutors said they plan to present two more vendors Thursday — a home theater installer and a landscaper — before moving on to a slew of bookkeepers and accountants who dealt with the veteran lobbyist and political consultant. Many of those witnesses demanded immunity in exchange for their testimony.
Wednesday’s testimony from the parade of high-end suit sellers and contractors produced an intriguing revelation: in order to get Manafort’s bills paid, someone repeatedly forged invoices. Real bills sent to Manafort were at some point converted to fake ones directed to various shell companies allegedly controlled by the longtime political operative.
The first details on the apparent forgeries came from the manager of a luxury men’s clothing boutique Manafort frequented, Alan Couture in New York. Seeking to establish just how expensive Manafort’s tastes were, Mueller’s team got Maximillian Katzman — the store’s ex-manager and son of its owner — to certify that Manafort ran up bills of more than $900,000 between 2010 and 2014.
Katzman said the boutique had only about 40 customers and Manafort ranked in the top five. Unlike other clients, Manafort didn’t pay the firm by check or credit card, but in funds wired from accounts abroad in the names of foreign businesses. “This is the only client that paid us in international wire transfers,” Katzman said.
Although many details about Manafort’s spending have been made public, prosecutor Greg Andres surprised many in the courtroom by posting an invoice on the TV monitors from “Alan Corture LLC.”
Asked about the bill, Katzman quickly indicated it was fake. “It’s off by a letter,” he said. “The zip code is incorrect.”
Unlike the real invoices, the invoice Andres showed did not contain any direct reference to Manafort. Instead, it appeared to be intended to show direct billing to a company linked to Manafort, Global Endeavor LLC. That was one of the companies used to wire funds to pay Manafort’s bills.
Katzman said he knew the invoice was not authentic. “We have never billed to Global Endeavor, nor had a client named Global Endeavor,” he said.
Prosecutors didn’t say why someone might have forged the invoices, but they have accused Manafort’s former partner and aide RIck Gates of conspiring with Manafort to forge financial records in connection with loan applications. A forged invoice might have been useful in persuading bookkeepers or tax preparers that the payments to Alan Couture were some sort of business-to-business transaction rather than a way to cover Manafort’s personal bills.