Today's episode of the Paul Manafort trial features the Parade of Accountants, where the jury and the rest of us learn how conservatives handle their taxes.
Yesterday, we learned that in spite of receiving over $60 million from his Ukrainian client over the years, Paul Manafort was going broke trying to sustain his lavish lifestyle, which included high costs for home renovations, expensive clothes, and a house for his daughter. (See Day 1 and Day 2 coverage for details.)
Today, accountants gave testimony about Manafort and his taxes; specifically, how he used shell corporations and mystery loans to evade his full tax bill and just pay a little piece of what he owed.
Here, via the Washington Post, is how Manafort operated:
Accountant Philip Ayliff testified that his firm asked Paul Manafort and Rick Gates for documentation of $1.5 million loan from Peranova Holdings in 2012 and got none.
“There normally wasn’t a response,” when the accounting firm, Kositzka Wicks & Company, asked about loans to Manafort’s consulting firm, Ayliff said. “They just said it was a loan.”
It was Rick Gates, Manafort’s deputy, who told the firm in a conference call that $1.5 million should be classified as a loan, Ayliff testified.
“We’d never heard of Peranova Holdings,” Ayliff testified. “We thought it was an independent third party.”
In fact, prosecutors have shown evidence Manafort used Peranova, based in Cyprus, to pay his personal expenses.
Had Ayliff known the $1.5 million was payment for work in Ukraine, the accountant said, on Manafort’s taxes “it would have been income.” Ayliff also said “if they had control over” Peranova, that would also have affected the tax return reporting.
Pay attention, fellow plebes. This is how it's done. Manafort funneled income in from Ukraine via the shell corporation Peranova to pay for his lavish lifestyle, and then told his accountants it was actually a loan, magically transforming taxable income into a tax liability. PRESTO CHANGO!!!!!
Don't try this at home, kids. It would get you smacked with tax evasion charges so fast your heads would spin, and as the accountants noted, depended on them being kept in the dark by their client.
Meanwhile, the defense to all of this seems to be that if he was actually trying to break the law, he wouldn't have left a paper trail. No, really, here is the defense attorney saying so:
“Nobody intending to violate the law would leave the evidence around for his accountant to find it,” Downing said in court.
This is where I would like to say that the assumption is that they'll never get caught, so it's no big deal to leave the paper trail that one might have when establishing shell corporations and foreign bank accounts to hide foreign payments from taxation. Defend all you want, but Manafort wasn't counting on getting caught. Ever.
But as we all know, the Ukrainian funds dried up in 2014 and by 2015, Manafort was feeling the pinch, so he reached in his bag of tricks to come up with a way to lower what he was going to owe in taxes again, and manufactured a loan that actually did not exist. In other words, he cooked the books.
Paul Manafort likely saved between $400,000 and $500,000 in taxes after his top deputy concocted a $900,000 loan to include on his business’s 2015 tax return, one of Manafort’s accountants testified Friday.
This testimony came from the first witness to be granted use immunity, accountant Cindy LaPorta, who signed off on his tax returns despite having reservations about their accuracy.
Laporta testified she did not believe such a loan actually existed, because the first she heard of it was in a September 2015 conversation with Manafor’ts business partner Rick Gates. She said she asked Gates for documentation of it, and he provided just two pages, apparently documenting a March 2014 loan agreement between DMP International and a company called Telmar Limited. Prosecutors have alleged Telmar is a Cyprus company that Manafort controlled.
Why sign off on it?
“I could have called Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates liars, but Mr. Manafort was a long-time client of the firm and I did not want to do that either,” she said.
And...AND...That tax return had Paul Manafort's signature on it, which he signed knowing full well he had lied to Laporta about that loan.
Again, I repeat...Paul Manafort never expected to be caught. In 2016, he rolled the dice and worked for Trump for free, hoping he could land some more big bucks as a result. Instead, he's facing the prospect of spending a lot of time in prison. Even if Donald Trump pardons him for federal tax fraud, he will have states to answer to, and those charges won't be hard to prove.
The trial is now recessed until Monday at 1pm Eastern time.