NEW YORK – A New York court on Thursday upheld a decision dismissing state mortgage fraud charges against Paul Manafort on double jeopardy grounds, affirming a lower court finding that they mirrored the federal charges that landed President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman behind bars.
A four-judge panel in the state's intermediate appeals court ruled that Manhattan prosecutors failed to show that the state charges they brought against Manafort last year warranted an exception to state double jeopardy protections.
Manhattan Judge Maxwell Wiley reached the same conclusion in December, explaining at the time that "the law of double jeopardy in New York state provides a very narrow window for prosecution." In its ruling, the appellate panel praised Wiley's “well-reasoned analysis."
Prosecutors contended that the state charges qualified for an exception because they were meant to prevent “very different kinds” of harm than the federal charges that landed Manafort behind bars and that Wiley had taken an “exceedingly broad view” in reaching his decision.
The appellate judges, in their ruling, found that the statutory differences prosecutors cited in their April appeal paperwork and during oral arguments this month “fall far short” of satisfying the “very different kinds” of harm exception.
The ruling is yet another blow to what had widely been seen as an attempt by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., a Democrat, to hedge against the possibility Trump would pardon Manafort for federal crimes.
Vance’s office said Thursday it is considering its appellate options.
Manafort's lawyer, Todd Blanche, praised the ruling. He first raised the double jeopardy issue almost immediately after the state charges were filed in March 2019, arguing that the factual overlap between the federal and state cases “is extensive — if not total.”
“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.
Manafort was convicted in federal court on charges alleging he misled the U.S. government about lucrative foreign lobbying work, hid millions of dollars from tax authorities and encouraged witnesses to lie on his behalf. Manafort was convicted of eight counts of tax and bank fraud, and a jury was hung on 10 other counts.
Manafort, 71, was released to home confinement in May because of concerns about the coronavirus less than a year into his nearly 7½-year sentence for the Virginia conviction and a subsequent guilty plea in a separate federal case in Washington, D.C.
Vance announced the state charges just minutes after Manafort’s sentencing in federal court. In a statement at the time, Vance said: “No one is beyond the law in New York.”
The New York indictment alleged Manafort gave false and misleading information in applying for residential mortgage loans, starting in 2015 and continuing until three days before Trump’s inauguration in 2017. Manafort was also charged with falsifying business records and conspiracy.
Manhattan prosecutors have argued their case was based in part on allegations that were never resolved in the federal trial and that charges they brought — mortgage fraud and falsifying business records — were state crimes but not federal crimes.
In their appeal, Manhattan prosecutors acknowledged their case involved some of the same issues as the federal case. They argued it wasn’t double jeopardy because state law allows second prosecutions that contain “different elements and were designed to prevent very different kinds of harm than the offenses in the first prosecution.”
Follow Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak