Former Trump campaign official to plead guilty

WASHINGTON (AP) —  A former top adviser to the Trump campaign is expected to plead guilty in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

A person close to Rick Gates say he is expected to enter the plea as early as Friday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss details.

A plea could signal that he’s planning to cooperate with Mueller.

The plea comes a day after a federal grand jury in Virginia returned an indictment against him and former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort accusing them of tax evasion and bank fraud. It was the second round of charges against the two men. They were charged last October with unregistered lobbying and conspiring to launder millions of dollars they earned while working on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.

White House special counsel Ty Cobb said in a statement: “The White House has repeatedly declined to comment on the matters involving Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates given the fact that none of the charges pertain to the campaign or to the White House.”

Last Friday, the special counsel produced grand jury indictments for 13 Russian nationals, accusing them of operating a misinformation campaign to hurt Hillary Clinton’s presidential effort.

In the indictment released Thursday, prosecutors allege Manafort and Gates “hid the existence and ownership of the foreign companies and bank accounts” they oversaw and laundered more than $30 million in income.

Some of the fraud was possible because the men disguised their income as “loans” from shell corporations they ran, the prosecutors said.

More than $75 million flowed through offshore accounts the men had set up in foreign countries, including Cyprus, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Seychelles, the indictment alleges. These are small island nations where local laws make it easy to park money.

Manafort used some of the money to buy real estate in the US, and they both used the money on home improvement and to refinance their mortgages, the indictment alleges. They also allegedly used money from their offshore accounts to pay for luxury goods, and, in Gates’ case, for his mortgage and children’s tuition. Manafort allegedly laundered and hid from the federal government $30 million in income with Gates’ assistance, prosecutors said, while Gates allegedly gained $3 million through the offshore accounts.

They were able to defraud banks because of the tens of millions of dollars they earned doing Ukrainian political work and lobbying from 2006 until 2015, the prosecutors allege. When the income “dwindled” after Manafort’s client fled Ukraine for Russia, he lied — with Gates’ help — about their companies’ worth to obtain millions of dollars in mortgages and didn’t pay taxes on their newfound riches, prosecutors allege.

Manafort faces 18 new charges in Virginia, while Gates faces 23 new charges. If found guilty of bank fraud, the defendants could each face up to 30 years in prison and a fine of as much as $1 million.

Already, the pair face a combined 12 criminal charges in federal court in Washington, DC, for alleged money laundering and failing to disclose banking information and foreign lobbying work they did prior to 2015. A handful of those charges are connected to the charges related to offshore accounts in the new indictment.

Manafort and Gates pleaded not guilty to the charges they face in DC in October.

Mueller’s prosecutors recently told Manafort and Gates they could choose to face the Virginia indictment in DC instead as part of the case that is already open, but Manafort refused.

The prosecutors also “met with defense counsel to go over the proof underlying the bank fraud charges” and to hear their arguments on why they should not face a new indictment, according to a report the prosecutors made to the judge in DC on Thursday.

Both Manafort and Gates visited the federal courthouse in Washington on Tuesday without their lawyers for reasons that are still unclear. Neither answered questions from reporters.

A sealed charge was filed in Washington in their case on Wednesday, and it’s not known what it is about or who faces those additional federal charges.