A former campaign aide to Donald Trump has testified that he committed crimes with Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman on trial for bank fraud and tax evasion.
Star witness Rick Gates, taking the stand Monday at his former business partner Manafort’s trial in Alexandria, Virginia, claimed he assisted Manafort in filing false tax returns.
Gates, who is cooperating with prosecutors and special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation after striking a plea bargain, testified that Manafort directed him to report overseas income as loans in order to lower his taxable income.
According to a Washington Post report, prosecutor Greg Andres asked: “Did you commit crimes with Mr Manafort?”
Gates, 46, replied: “Yes.”
Gates told the court he concealed millions of dollars in foreign bank accounts on Manafort’s behalf and falsified loan applications and other documents to help his boss obtain more in bank loans.
He also admitted that he fiddled his expenses without Manafort’s knowledge by filing false reports to boost his own salary by “several hundred thousand” dollars.
The Post also noted: “Manafort, seated between his lawyers in a dark suit, blue shirt and purple tie, stared intently at his former business partner as he spoke.”
The evidence from Gates, who appeared in court in a blue suit, blue shirt and gold tie, could be the turning point in the high profile trial. The defence has attempted to blame Manafort’s longtime deputy for any illegal conduct and accused him of embezzling millions of dollars.
The case opened last week with a display of Manafort’s lavish lifestyle, including a $15,000 jacket made from ostrich, and heard testimony about what prosecutors say were years of financial deceit.
Prosecutors allege Manafort failed to report a “significant percentage” of the more than $60m they say he received from Ukrainian oligarchs. He allegedly opened 30 bank accounts in three foreign countries to “receive and hide” his income, they claim.
The defence is arguing Manafort was preoccupied by his consulting business and delegated the particulars of his finances to professionals and, in particular, to Gates. “Rick Gates had his hand in the cookie jar and he couldn’t take the risk his boss would find out,” they suggested in opening arguments.
Gates is therefore expected to face a tough cross-examination from defence lawyers.
The trial does not directly relate to Trump or the investigation into alleged collusion with Moscow. But the president tweeted last week: “Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer and “Public Enemy Number One,” or Paul Manafort, political operative & Reagan/Dole darling, now serving solitary confinement – although convicted of nothing? Where is the Russian Collusion?”