Prosecutors want 15-year sentence for Manafort’s former son-in-law

By Josh Gerstein

Federal prosecutors are seeking a 15-year prison sentence for Jeffrey Yohai, the ex-son-in-law and real estate partner of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, on fraud charges — roughly double the time Manafort received for a slew of crimes prosecuted by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.

Prosecutors say Yohai swindled numerous individuals and lenders out of a total of more than $13 million through deals to develop real estate in wealthy Los Angeles neighborhoods, as well as more mundane scams like renting out luxury homes he did not own and selling exclusive passes to the Coachella music festival that he did not have.

Yohai pleaded guilty in February 2018 to conspiracy to commit bank wire fraud. While awaiting sentencing on that charge, he was accused of engaging in similar frauds, prompting his re-arrest and a second guilty plea in June of this year on another charge of wire fraud conspiracy.

“Defendant has done tremendous damage to a huge number of victims,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Brown wrote in the 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.

Among those swindled by Yohai, prosecutors contend, was the award-winning actor Dustin Hoffman andGuy Aroch, a prominent photographer, who both invested millions in real estate deals with Yohai.

Yohai figured in Manafort’s high-profile trial in Virginia in the summer of 2018, in which one of the bank fraud charges the longtime Republican lobbyist and political consultant faced involved fraudulent information provided in an effort 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 luxury-house-flipping plan. The bank wound up lending $1 million, which it later sued to get back.

The related bank fraud charge was one of eight felonies the jury convicted Manafort of, although Yohai was not charged in the case. Manafort ultimately got a seven-and-half-year combined sentence on the tax and fraud charges he was found guilty of in Virginia, as well as two other charges he pleaded guilty to as part of a deal to avert a second trial in Washington on charges of being an unregistered foreign agent, money-laundering and obstruction of justice.

While Yohai repeatedly sought to cooperate with 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. “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.

It’s unclear why or whether Yohai believed that claims of involvement in the Mueller probe would make him a more attractive participant in a business deal.

Why the Mueller team didn’t exhibit much interest in Yohai despite his attempts to aid them is unclear, but he has a long history of drug abuse. Court records indicate that 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 has 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.

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.

The prosecutors’ sentencing filing for Yohai says he tried to tamper with the testimony of witnesses against him via “coded” phone calls with his ex-wife last October while he was in a county jail. Prosecutors say Yohai called Bond to inform her that one charge he was facing was for pawning expensive musical equipment that belonged to someone else, and that his associates should say that Yohai wound up with the gear in exchange for a security deposit.

Bond called back later to say Yohai’s cohorts were trying to convince the owner of the gear to say that, the FBI’s Ebadi wrote in a court filing. Bond has not been charged in the case.

The federal public defender in Los Angeles, Hilary Potashner, did not respond to a request for comment on the prosecution’s filing. Under the terms of his plea deal, Yohai’s right to appeal his sentence is sharply limited, unless the judge goes over 15 years.

Yohai faces a maximum possible sentence of 50 years in prison.

Prosecutors also noted that a 15-year sentence for Yohai would probably mean his serving less than 12 years because of “good time” credits and credit for a prison drug treatment program.

“Defendant has never been to prison before, so it is at least possible that he would change during a lengthy sentence,” Brown wrote. “The signs, however, are not good; so far in jail he has taken the money of his loved ones to buy drugs, obtained prison tattoos, and prevailed upon his associates to concoct a bogus defense for at least one charge.”

U.S. District Court Judge Andre Birotte is scheduled to sentence Yohai on Nov. 8.