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The Dirty White Collar

Yesterday, Paul Manafort was sentenced to 47 months in jail (3 years, 11 months) on his conviction for defrauding banks and the government, and for failing to pay taxes on millions of dollars of income. Considering that prosecutors asked for a sentence of 19 to 25 years, that is quite a light sentence. Subtracting time already served and the customary time off for good behavior, Manafort could be released in just over two years.

Why would a judge give such a light sentence to someone who never expressed any remorse for his crimes? The judge who sentenced him leniently even said “I was surprised I did not hear you express regret for engaging in criminal conduct. I hope you will reflect on that.”

But something else the same judge said triggered a backlash. He claimed that Manafort “lived an otherwise blameless life,” and that he was also a good friend and generous person to others. Seriously.

The Atlantic compiled a long list of the evil and corrupt things Manafort has done in his “blameless life”. Here are some of them:

  • Manafort worked for Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos to improve his image in Washington after Marcos assassinated his main political opponent.
  • He worked to keep arms flowing to Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, “a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa”. These arms included millions of landmines, which resulted in 15 thousand innocent people losing limbs or their lives.
  • As for being generous and a good friend, Manafort was kicked out of the lobbying firm he co-founded because he inflated his expenses and cut his partners out of deals.
  • The income taxes he failed to pay came from his work as “the chief political advisor to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine” who corruptly enriched themselves with government contracts and collaborated with the Russians.
  • During his time as head of the Trump presidential campaign, Manafort “installed one of his proteges as the head of a pro-Trump super-PAC” who then funneled $125,000 to Manafort.
  • During this very trial, Manafort tried to tamper with a potential witness, so their stories would align.
  • And of course, he promised to fully cooperate with Robert Mueller’s investigation, and then repeatedly lied to them.

Social media erupted, including posts from legal experts and lawmakers, criticizing the lenient sentence and pointing out instances where people convicted of much lesser crimes received far harsher punishments. For example:

  • A public defender in New York posted that the day before Manafort was sentenced, a client of his was given 36 to 72 months in jail for stealing $100 in quarters from a residential laundry room.
  • A woman who received 5 years in prison for voting while on probation, something she didn’t know she wasn’t allowed to do.
  • A mother of six who got 15 years in prison for drug possession. Her 18-year-old is now raising five kids.
  • Or a 16-year-old who spent three years in jail without ever being convicted of any crime. The charges against him — stealing a knapsack — were finally dropped, which means that someone who was never convicted of a petty crime spent almost as much time in jail as Manafort’s sentence.

Their point is not that Manafort should have received a stronger sentence, but that the poor and people of color consistently receive far harsher sentences than white collar criminals who show up at their trials wearing expensive suits (Manafort’s lavish lifestyle included spending more than a million dollars on custom suits).



  1. Wildwood wrote:

    My first instinct was to question why the judge did what he did and was he perhaps looking for a nomination to the Supremes. But given his age, I now doubt that.

    I don’t doubt that thousands in the penal system got screwed compared to this judgement. But I do wonder why the judge made the choice to go easy. Could he have been threatened? Manifort, after all, has friends in high places who are less than nice.

    The next few weeks will be interesting seeing the outrage about this sentence and how long the judge lasts on the bench. Maybe he is retiring and this was his big finish.

    I just find it incomprehensible.

    Friday, March 8, 2019 at 11:09 am | Permalink
  2. westomoon wrote:

    It occurred to me today — any crime that is committed while wearing a suit that cost at least $1,000 will be punished with a sentence that is measured in weeks.

    Friday, March 8, 2019 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

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