Rick Gates pleads guilty; Paul Manafort faces new charges

By Danielle Haynes  |  Feb. 23, 2018 at 1:54 PM
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Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleaded guilty Friday to charges leveled by special counsel Robert Mueller as his business associate, Paul Manafort, faced a fresh indictment.

During a hearing in federal court, Gates said he was aware that as part of the agreement, he must cooperate with the Mueller investigation on "all matters" they deem relevant.

The judge said Gates faces between 57 and 71 months in prison for his offenses, though his sentence depends on the extent to which he cooperates with investigators.

The charges stem from a October 2017 indictment accusing Gates and his business associate, Paul Manafort, of planning to defraud the U.S. government about money they received for political consultant work in Ukraine. They also were accused of lying about a 2013 meeting they had with an unidentified lobbyist and member of Congress, which included a discussion about Ukraine.

The two men initially pleaded not guilty to all counts and were placed on house arrest.

After Gates appeared in court, a newly unsealed indictment accused Manafort of paying former European politicians to lobby on behalf of Ukraine. Under the agreement, the former politicians would appear to be analysts but were actually secret lobbyists.

The indictment says Manafort used offshore accounts to pay the so-called Hapsburg group to lobby various governments, including the United States.

Manafort issued a statement Friday in response to Gates' guilty plea.

"I continue to maintain my innocence," Manafort said. "I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence. For reasons yet to surface he chose to do otherwise. This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled up charges contained in the indictments against me."

Mueller, who's leading a team investigating Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election and whether the Trump campaign colluded, filed a second indictment against Gates and Manafort on Thursday. The 32-count indictment accuses them of a variety of financial crimes.

The document filed Friday indicates that between 2006 and 2016, Manafort laundered more than $16 million, and Gates transferred more than $3 million into his accounts.

Gates' agreement to plead guilty to some of the charges indicates he could be willing to cooperate with the investigation into his former business associate.

Manafort resigned as Trump's campaign chairman in August 2016 after The New York Times reported a Ukrainian government corruption probe found Manafort received nearly $13 million off the books from a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. In June 2017, when Manafort registered as a foreign agent after the fact, he reported making more than $17 million from the Party of Regions.

Though Manafort was ousted from the Trump campaign, Gates stayed on and had a role in the president's inaugural committee. He also was part of a lobbying group to help push Trump's agenda, but he was forced out in April amid questions over his role in the Russia probe.

This month's indictment says Manafort and Gates passed the money they received from Ukraine through foreign bank accounts to conceal it from the Internal Revenue Service. The charges include preparing false tax returns, bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and failure to disclose income from foreign sources.

This isn't the first guilty plea to come as part of Mueller's probe. Earlier this month, a New York-based Dutch lawyer, Alex Van Der Zwaan, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and the special counsel team about his work with a law firm on behalf of Ukraine's Ministry of Justice in 2012.

Also this month, a California man pleaded guilty to identity fraud related to a scheme allegedly operated by 13 Russian nationals and three entities to open PayPal accounts with stolen identities of people in the United States.

In December, Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the FBI about his interactions with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

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