BY MICHAEL R. SISAK | ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW YORK (AP) — A New York judge threw out state mortgage fraud charges against Paul Manafort, ruling Wednesday that the criminal case was too similar to one that has already landed President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman in federal prison.
The move was a blow to what had widely been seen as an attempt by Manhattan’s district attorney, a Democrat, to hedge against the possibility that Trump would pardon Manafort for federal crimes. Manafort was convicted in two federal cases stemming from his business dealings and is serving a 7½-year prison sentence.
Judge Maxwell Wiley ruled that state law precludes prosecution, citing double jeopardy grounds. Manafort, 70, wasn’t in court for Wiley’s ruling because of a health problem.
Manafort’s lawyers had argued that the state charges should have been dismissed because they involve some of the same allegations as federal cases that have landed Manafort behind bars.
In a hearing that lasted just a few minutes, Wiley said he agreed, announcing his ruling to prosecutors and Manafort’s lawyers. He said a detailed explanation is provided in a written decision, a copy of which has yet to be provided to media.
“Basically, the law of double jeopardy in New York state provides a very narrow window for prosecution,” the judge said.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office said it would appeal the decision.
Defense lawyer Todd Blanche raised the double jeopardy issue soon after Manafort was arrested, saying that the charges brought by Vance violated a state law that bars repeat prosecutions for the same general conduct.
The factual overlap between the federal and state cases “is extensive — if not total,” Blanche wrote in court papers.
Manafort had a heart-related condition and was moved last week to a hospital from a federal prison in Pennsylvania, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Tuesday. They were not permitted to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
His federal prison sentence is for misleading the U.S. government about lucrative foreign lobbying work, hiding millions of dollars from tax authorities and encouraging witnesses to lie on his behalf.
Vance announced the charges in March, just minutes after Manafort was sentenced in the second of the two federal cases, saying in a statement at the time: “No one is beyond the law in New York.”
The 16-count New York indictment was largely seen as a hedge against the possibility that Trump might pardon Manafort, his campaign chairman in 2016, for his federal crimes. The state charges 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. He is also charged with falsifying business records and conspiracy.
Prosecutors had argued that the case was based on allegations that were never resolved in Manafort’s 2018 federal trial in Virginia. Jurors found Manafort guilty of eight counts of tax- and bank-fraud charges but couldn’t reach a verdict on 10 other charges, resulting in a mistrial on those counts.