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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Prosecution witness Rick Gates, a former business partner of Paul Manafort, testified Monday that he joined Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman in committing crimes.
“Did you commit any crimes with Mr. Manafort?” the prosecution asked.
“Yes,” Gates answered.
Gates is the prosecution’s star witness in Manafort’s federal fraud trial — a man special counsel Robert Mueller’s team says was heavily involved in helping hide millions overseas. He pleaded guilty to reduced charges in February and agreed to cooperate with the government.
Gates, who usually sports a beard, was clean-shaven, wearing a blue suit. Manafort did not react to the testimony.
Gates testified on Monday that he met Manafort while he was an intern with one of Manafort’s former firms. However, he didn’t work with Manafort directly until he started working at Davis Manafort Partners in October 2006.
Gates also told prosecutors that he had embezzled money from Manafort by creating false expense reports on his own behalf. He didn’t state an exact dollar amount, but estimated it to be “in the hundreds of thousands.”
Gates said he had authority on some of the offshore accounts to move money, and did so through wire transfers. He said Manafort was unaware.
Manafort’s attorneys, however, cited the theft in an attempt to discredit Gates prior to him taking the stand. Kevin Downing, a lawyer for Manafort, went after Gates’ credibility during his cross-examination of Manafort’s accountant, Cynthia Laporta, last week.
“Had you known that Rick Gates was embezzling from Mr. Manafort, would you trust anything he says?” Downing asked Laporta. She testified that even if Gates had embezzled, the accountants are usually the last to know.
Laporta, Manafort’s accountant on his 2014 and 2015 tax return, also testified Friday that she helped Gates falsify tax and bank documents. She has been granted immunity and testified that she was in on discussions to falsify a loan document at the direction of Gates so that Manafort could afford to his pay HIS 2014 income taxes.
Downing also asked Laporta if failure to provide requested documents could signify that someone was embezzling, and Laporta said it was a possibility.
Prosecutors objected to the questioning, but Judge T.S. Ellis overruled the objection because Downing said that he intends to offer evidence that Gates was embezzling from Manafort.
Monday is the Day 5 of Manafort’s trial, the first of two he is scheduled to face. The tax and bank fraud charges in this trial have nothing to do with Manafort’s work on the Trump campaign. Instead, prosecutors for special counsel Robert Mueller accuse him of hiding at least $30 million that he earned while representing Russia’s neighboring country of Ukraine and its president, Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Both Gates and Manafort were indicted last October by a federal grand jury on 12 charges, including conspiracy against the U.S. Manafort has pleaded not guilt to all charges.