Oh, to be a white man guilty of a white-collar crime. Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chair, was sentenced to a ridiculously lenient 47 months in prison after being convicted of tax and bank fraud in Virginia. For context, those convictions under normal sentencing guidelines should have racked up a 19-24-year prison term.
But again, oh to be a guilty white man.
According to the New York Times, Judge T.S. Ellis III of the United States District Court in Alexandria, Va., acknowledged that Manafort’s crimes were “very serious” but then somehow seemed to think that following sentencing guidelines would be “excessive” saying that he believed Manafort “lived an otherwise blameless life.”
The judge also decided to give Manafort credit for the time (about 9 months) that he’s already spent in jail. So when all is said and done, Manafort will be spending a little more than three years behind bars for defrauding banks and the government and for not paying taxes on the millions in income that he got from his Ukranian political consulting, CNNnotes.
Manafort did ask Judge Ellis “to be compassionate” in his sentencing, telling the judge that the “last two years have been the most difficult years for my family and I.” The 69-year-old, who has gout, appeared at the sentencing hearing in a wheelchair with his foot bandaged, the Times notes.
In addition to his slap-on-the-wrist sentencing, Ellis also ordered Manafort to pay at least $6 million in restitution to the government (although the Justice Department could seek up to four times that amount if Manafort owes it), alongside a $50,000 fine. After he has completed his 47-month sentence, Manafort will also have to serve three years of supervised release.
Needless to say, Manafort’s relatively light sentence drew criticism from lawmakers, journalists, and lawyers alike.
“Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, commits bank and tax fraud and gets 47 months. A homeless man, Fate Winslow, helped sell $20 of pot and got life in prison. The words above the Supreme Court say ‘Equal Justice Under Law’—when will we start acting like it?” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted.
“Paul Manafort getting such little jail time for such serious crimes lays out for the world how it’s almost impossible for rich people to go to jail for the same amount of time as someone who is lower income. In our current broken system, ‘justice’ isn’t blind. It’s bought,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) added.
“Paul Manafort’s lenient 4-year sentence — far below the recommended 20 years despite extensive felonies and post-conviction obstruction — is a reminder of the blatant inequities in our justice system that we all know about, because they reoccur every week in courts across America,” MSNBC Host Ari Melber tweeted.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif) noted on All In With Chris Hayes, “I think I spent more days in detention in high school than Judge Ellis thinks that Paul Manafort should spend in jail for what he did to defraud the United States.”
For context on Manafort’s 47 months in prison, my client yesterday was offered 36-72 months in prison for stealing $100 worth of quarters from a residential laundry room.
Brooklyn Defender Services’ Scott Hechinger pointed to the bitter disparity, noting that “my client yesterday was offered 36-72 months in prison for stealing $100 worth of quarters from a residential laundry room,” as a comparison.
Rob Flaherty, who has worked with progressive advocacy groups linked to a story where a Black Mississippi man was sentenced to 12 years in prison for having marijuana that he legally purchased in Oregon.
Many of us probably have more than a case or two to point out the disparity of treatment that people of different racial and socio-economic backgrounds have when encountering the legal justice system.
That being said, Manafort is not quite in the clear yet. He has one more case to be sentenced for next week, in front of a different federal judge, related to charges of conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Manafort has been convicted of a slew of other crimes, including witness tampering, conspiracy related to his illegal lobbying for Ukranian interests, lying to the Justice Department and money laundering.
That case, being handled in Washington, D.C., carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. Manafort’s lawyers have requested leniency from U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, but her decision is yet to be seen.
Jackson could give Manafort the maximum prison sentence, or not. She will also be the one to determine whether his sentence in her case will be served concurrently with the sentence from the fraud case…or not.