An accountant for U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort testified on Friday that she prepared his tax returns despite her concerns about the propriety of classifying money he transferred from overseas as loans.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis asked the accountant, Cynthia Laporta, whether she was testifying under an immunity agreement with the government because she was concerned that she could be prosecuted. She answered, “Correct.”
Laporta testified she knew an accounting treatment for a loan was wrong when preparing Manafort’s tax return for 2014. “I very much regret it,” she told the courtroom.
Her testimony came on the trial’s fourth day as prosecutors sought to drive home their case that Manafort tried to hide millions of dollars he earned working for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. Manafort, 69, has pleaded not guilty to charges of bank fraud, tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts.
The trial in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, is the first arising from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election.
Both Laporta and fellow accountant Philip Ayliff, her predecessor who handled Manafort’s tax filings at the firm KWC, testified that they had no knowledge that Manafort controlled foreign bank accounts. Such accounts must be reported to tax authorities if they contain $10,000 or more.
Laporta said she asked Manafort directly about any such holdings and was told there were none.
Prosecutors have tried to make their case first by presenting testimony about Manafort’s lavish lifestyle and then detailing his financial maneuvering.
Defense attorneys have signaled they will seek to blame the financial charges against Manafort on his business partner Rick Gates, who was Trump’s deputy campaign chairman in the 2016 presidential election.
Laporta testified that Gates, in a conference call with her and another accountant at the firm, instructed them to alter a loan amount to lower Manafort’s tax bill because it was too high for Manafort to pay.
“Rick said it was too high” and that Manafort “didn’t have that money,” Laporta said in response questions by prosecutor Uzo Asonye.
Gates, who pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy and lying to the FBI, is cooperating with Mueller’s probe, and is expected to testify later in the trial.
The charges against Manafort largely pre-date the five months he worked for Trump, some of them as campaign chairman, during a pivotal period in the race for the White House. (Reuters)