Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is escorted into court for his arraignment in New York Supreme Court, June 27, 2019.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters
A New York state court appeals panel ruled Thursday that Paul Manafort, the disgraced former chief of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, cannot be prosecuted on state criminal charges related to the same conduct that led to his federal criminal convictions.
The ruling upheld a decision last December by Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Maxwell Wiley, which said that the rule of double jeopardy barred Manafort from being prosecuted for mortgage fraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office.
“It is undisputed that the federal charges of which defendant has already been convicted involve the same fraud, against the same victims, as is charged in his New York indictment,” the ruling, issued by the Appellate Division, First Judicial Department, of Manhattan Supreme Court, said.
The ruling could put an end to efforts to put Manafort back behind bars and to short circuit the effect of a possible pardon of him by Trump for his federal convictions.
Manafort was released from prison last May to serve the balance of his 7 1/2-year federal sentence in home confinement due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic spreading in prisons.
Vance’s spokesman Danny Frost said in response to the ruling, “We will consider our appellate options.”
Manafort’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, in an emailed statement said, “We are pleased” with the decision.
“As we have said from the time the District Attorney announced charges against Mr. Manafort, this is a case that should never have been brought because the dismissed indictment is a clear violation of New York law,” Blanche said.
“As the Appellate Division held, the People’s arguments ‘fall far short’ of triggering an exception to double jeopardy that would justify this prosecution.”
Manafort, 71, was convicted at a federal trial and in a subsequent guilty plea in another federal court in 2018 of multiple crimes related to money he earned from consulting work for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. His work in Ukraine predated his service in Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
The longtime Republican operative was charged with state crimes in an indictment obtained by Vance right after being sentenced on the federal charges in 2019.
Manafort’s lawyer Blanche had argued that the state charges were barred by double jeopardy — which prevents a defendant from being prosecuted twice for the same crime — because they related to mortgage applications that were the subject of Manafort’s federal trial.
The four-judge panel on the Appellate Division, in its ruling agreeing with that argument, noted that New York law “provides that a person may not be separately prosecuted for two offenses based upon the same act or criminal transaction.”
There is an exception to that law: when the “statutory provisions defining such offenses are designed to prevent very different kinds of harm or evil,” the ruling noted.
But Vance’s office “failed to establish that the federal and state statutes, all of which were directed against fraudulent transactions, were designed to prevent very different kinds of harm or evil,” the panel said.
Vance’s effort to convict Manafort of state charges has been viewed as a way to ensure that he is punished for his actions even if Trump ultimately grants him a pardon, or commutes his federal sentence.
Trump can only issue such clemency for people convicted of federal crimes, not state crimes.