Thursday, in the Virginia courtroom of Federal Judge Thomas Shelby Elliott III, Paul Manafort was sentence to 47 months in prison. Judge Elliott was nominated to his lifetime job by Ronald Reagan. This is yet another piece of evidence supporting my theory that Reagan did more enduring harm to America than any other president in the history of our nation. (Although, given the opportunity I think Trump could surpass Reagan’s “achievements”.) My one word reaction to the sentence is: outrageous! Let’s explore.
Before I pontificate on this individual case I want to address a larger problem in contemporary American criminal justice. We treat white collar crime much less seriously than other criminal acts. If someone walks up to you on the street, threatens you and steals your wallet containing money and credit cards we treat it as a serious, violent crime. If caught and brought to court the perpetrator often faces serious prison time in a less than hospitable prison. A white collar criminal can steal much more via fraud and deception but since they didn’t directly confront you and display a weapon or threaten physical violence they get a relative slap on the wrist and often no jail time at all. In fact if they do get “time” they often serve it in a less restrictive facility.
There is also the factor of white privilege. Manafort, Elliott and (in full disclosure) I are all older white males. (Senior citizen privilege may have also played a part.) Had Manafort’s crimes been committed by a young non-Caucasian offender the odds exponentially indicate that a longer sentence would have been handed down.
Manafort was represented by expensive legal counsel. A young black defendant most likely would have had an overworked, under resourced court appointed attorney who would have done a “meet and plead”. Manafort had the benefit of friends in high places. He ran the sitting president’s election campaign and Trump still speaks highly of him.
Federal judges have a set of guidelines for sentencing. This is an attempt to assure equal justice under the law regardless of geography or presiding judge. The guidelines in this case called for a sentence of between 19 1/2 and 24 years. Elliott has a reputation for going easy on white collar criminals. I don’t necessarily agree with that but it is Elliott’s courtroom not mine. 12 to 15 years might have been legitimate and still in keeping with Elliott’s philosophy; 4 years is outrageous!
Elliott has envisions himself as Emperor Caesar and his courtroom as his personal Rome. If we are going to stick to loose Roman mythology, I think Emperor Nero fiddling while Rome burned might be a more accurate analogy.
Robert Mueller’s office notified the court that they had no objection to the guidelines. They let Elliott know that Manafort had reneged on his cooperation agreement and in fact had wasted their time (and our taxpayer money).
Talking about taxpayer money, Manafort is convicted of stealing money via tax fraud to the tune of about $30 million. At 4 years in prison that comes out to $7.5 million per year. To put it in baseball terms: that’s pretty good money for a 69 year-old who can’t pitch, hit or run.
In his sentencing statement Elliott said he took the “fact” that Manafort had led an “Otherwise blameless life” into accounting in determining the sentence. Did that include Manafort’s work in Ukraine where he received approximately $20 million in money purloined from the Ukrainian people? Did that include Manafort successfully managing the 2010 campaign of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych who almost immediately after taking office gave Russia military basing right in Crimea lasting until 2042?
Manafort is due to be sentenced on Wednesday in D. C. in the other federal case in which he was adjudicated guilty. Let’s hope Obama nominee Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson administers justice.
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