Manafort's former son-in-law gets 9 years for array of scams

By Josh Gerstein

Paul Manafort’s former son-in-law was sentenced to more than nine years in prison Friday for a wide-ranging series of fraud schemes the court said bilked victims out of more than $6 million.

As District Judge André Birotte Jr. imposed the sentence of nine years and two months on Jeffrey Yohai, the judge blasted the would-be real estate developer as a serial scammer whose “horrific” crimes posed a significant threat to the public, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said.

Birotte said Yohai’s fraud spree demonstrated “sophistication,” an “evil mind,” and a belief that he “could do anything he wanted,” the spokesman said.

Yohai pleaded guilty to a array of brazen frauds, including renting out luxury homes without the permission of their owners, selling nonexistent backstage passes for the Coachella music festival, and pawning band equipment that belonged to someone else.

Among those swindled by Yohai is the award-winning actor Dustin Hoffman and Guy Aroch, a prominent photographer, both of whom invested millions in real estate deals with Yohai.

Some of Yohai’s frauds were carried out while he was on bond after pleading guilty in a real estate fraud case nearly two years ago.

“Defendant has done tremendous damage to a huge number of victims,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Brown wrote in a September court filing. Yohai “has shown an almost unbelievable compulsion to defraud others, to the point that he could not stop even while awaiting this court’s judgment on him in the first case, which strongly suggests that he will continue on his criminal path despite having been blessed with so many advantages.

“Worse, he seems to enjoy committing fraud and revels in cheating others out of their hard-earned money, as though he thought real work was only for patsies,” Brown added.

Prosecutors, who charged that Yohai’s scams totaled more than $13 million, asked that he receive a 15-year prison term. The sentence the judge imposed was substantially shorter but still lengthy for a financial fraud. He ordered a total of $6.7 million in restitution.

Yohai’s sentence is about a 1½ years longer than the term his former father-in-law received on tax and fraud convictions from a jury trial in Virginia last year as well as two guilty pleas that were part of a deal to avert a second trial in Washington on charges of money-laundering, obstruction of justice, and being an unregistered foreign agent.

Manafort and Yohai were involved in several real estate projects involving efforts to build and flip luxury homes in Los Angeles. One of the longtime Republican lobbyist and political consultant's bank fraud crimes involved providing fraudulent information to secure a loan from the Banc of California on properties in which he invested with Yohai.

Manafort and Yohai initially asked the bank for $5 million to finance their plan. The bank wound up lending $1 million, which it later sued to get back.

Yohai was mentioned at the trial, but did not testify. He was not charged in the Virginia case.

While Yohai repeatedly sought to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators, there’s no indication they seriously considered using him as a witness. He was not called by either side at Manafort’s trial.

Nevertheless, Yohai allegedly told men trying to sell a Los Angeles home that he’d be traveling to Washington soon to aid Mueller’s inquiry.

“During lunch, Yohai told [the men] that he ‘turned state’s evidence’ on his father-in-law, Paul Manafort,” FBI Special Agent Sherine Ebadi wrote in a court filing. “Yohai made several statements … that he had to go to ‘D.C.’ to meet with the Special Counsel’s Office or ‘downtown’ to meet with ‘the f.’”

“I know these statements to be false as I was the case agent for the Special Counsel’s case against Manafort,” Ebadi added.

Why the Mueller team didn’t exhibit much interest in Yohai despite his attempts to offer aid is unclear, but he has a long history of drug abuse. Court records indicate Yohai went into the costly Cottonwood drug rehab program in Arizona at the end of 2016.

Prosecutors contend that after leaving Cottonwood, Yohai scammed fellow addicts who paid to live at a “sober living” home he set up in L.A. Yohai allegedly took a $5,000 security deposit from one such man and charged another $35,000 a month “for ‘detox’ care which [Yohai] could not and did not provide.”

Yohai admitted that he used cocaine and methamphetamine even while he was jailed earlier this year after his bond was revoked when the second round of fraud charges emerged. Prosecutors say he got the drugs by arranging small payments from money his mother put into a jail account.

Some of his conduct in the various frauds was bizarre even for a flimflam artist. In one instance, he sought to pay off a real estate-related debt to a Los Angeles physician by offering the doctor a large bag of marijuana.

Yohai and Manafort’s daughter Jessica married in 2013. She filed for divorce in 2017 and last year formally changed her last name from Manafort to Bond — her mother’s maiden name.