Yankees emerge as key evidence in Paul Manafort trial

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent
This courtroom sketch depicts former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, left, earlier this week at the federal court in Alexandria, Va. (Photo: Dana Verkouteren via AP)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A package of baseball season tickets owned by President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was a major topic of discussion on Friday at his trial for charges including money laundering, financial fraud and tax investigation.

Irfan Kirimca, senior director of ticket operations for the New York Yankees, was one of the final witnesses called by prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller. Kirimca was asked to testify because Manafort cited expenses related to baseball when he applied for a home loan in late 2016.

Multiple witnesses discussed $16 million in loans that Manafort received from the Federal Savings Bank despite doubts about his financial situation.

In 2016, executives at the Federal Savings Bank raised concerns about $300,000 in debt the veteran political operative had on an American Express card. Prosecutors showed messages indicating Manafort explained the debt with a letter from his colleague Rick Gates thanking him for a “loan to purchase Season Tickets for NY Yankees.”

Manafort used the note from Gates to indicate the tickets explained the $210,600 on the card.

On Friday, government prosecutors cross-examined Kirimca, who testified that Manafort has owned tickets in the team’s “Legends Suites” section since at least 2010. The tickets, some of the Yankees’ most expensive, allow owners access to an exclusive area of the stadium that offers, among other things, sushi and steak.

However, Kirimca said Gates was never shipped tickets or involved in discussions about attending the games. In one of the emails, Manafort indicated he and his wife would be there for the team’s first game of 2016. In another, Manafort asked the team to ship tickets to him at his apartment in Trump Tower.

“Yes, Kathy and I will be attending Opening Day,” Manafort wrote in the messages.

The clear implication of the Yankees’ representative’s testimony is that the documents attributing Manafort’s debt to Gates’ borrowing the credit card to buy baseball tickets were fraudulent. Prosecutors also presented documents showing Manafort was warned he would be committing a crime if he misrepresented his financial situation.

Gates is currently cooperating with prosecutors after pleading guilty to reduce his own charges of conspiracy and lying to the FBI. Lawyers defending Manafort have suggested any financial issues stemmed from Gates’ handling of funds.

On Friday, prosecutors presented Dennis Raico, a former salesman from the bank, who described how some executives at the financial institution opposed giving Manafort the home loans. The messages indicate Manafort received the money, in part, due to his close relationship with the bank’s founder and chairman, Steve Calk. Raico testified that Calk talked with Manafort about possibly serving as secretary of the Treasury or the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The government’s attorneys have outlined a case centered on Manafort’s work for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russia leader.

Yanukovych, who was backed by the Kremlin, was ousted following mass protests in 2014, and his removal from power precipitated Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a major source of recent tensions between Moscow and the United States. Manafort has also done political work for a series of top Republicans including Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

The White House has responded to the allegations against Manafort by falsely trying to distance the operative from the president. Trump has also addressed the case on Twitter. For example, in one June message the president emphasized Manafort’s lengthy ties to the GOP and suggested more focus should be aimed at Democrats.

“Wow, what a tough sentence for Paul Manafort, who has represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other top political people and campaigns,” Trump wrote, adding, “Didn’t know Manafort was the head of the Mob. What about Comey and Crooked Hillary and all of the others? Very unfair!”

According to prosecutors, Yanukovych’s removal led to a steep drop in Manafort’s income. Prosecutors have detailed Manafort’s lavish lifestyle including hundreds of thousands of dollars he spent on clothing and home maintenance. The government’s attorneys say Manafort resorted to fraud to make up for the lost funds. Manafort’s lawyers and prosecutors declined to comment on the case,

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