- Frank Cerabino Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
It makes sense that Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, will wait for the outcome of his criminal case here in Palm Beach County.
Manafort had been considered a flight risk after being collared in a 31-page indictment that spelled out a dozen felony charges against him, including laundering $75 million as an unregistered foreign agent for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, lying to federal investigators and committing a “conspiracy against the United States.”
And it didn’t help that he also had three passports with different numbers, a phone in a fake name, and a busy schedule of international travel to countries where his foreign bank accounts and shell companies were located.
Rather than sit in jail, Manafort was willing to put up millions of dollars as a bond for his release. And the law requires the judge to comply with the Bail Reform Act, a federal law that forbids “the imposition of excessive bail without creating a right to bail.”
So Manafort was able to secure his freedom by agreeing to forfeit $10 million of his property if he didn’t show up for court hearings. But where should he be allowed to live while the charges are pending? And what other conditions might be made to make it harder for him to vanish during that time?
Here are the choices: He has two homes in New York: One in New York City and the other in the Hamptons. And he has a home in Alexandria, Virginia, where he was put on house arrest after being charged.
But more appealing as a pre-trial location, is the Palm Beach Gardens home he owns in the BallenIsles Country Club.
Sending him there is the right thing to do in many ways.
For starters, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson had to feel comfortable that Manafort would be going someplace where he would be closely watched.
And you can’t beat a South Florida guard-gate community for that.
The terms of his release says he has to wear an ankle monitor while he’s in South Florida and he has to be back in his home by 11 every night.
In the New York and Virginia areas around Manafort’s other homes, the nightlife scene is more vibrant, and it would be easy for him to break that nightly curfew without being noticed.
But it’s hard to imagine anybody wandering around BallenIsles after the last dog has been walked for the evening. And where would Manafort go in Palm Beach Gardens after 11 at night.
There is not much open beside the bank ATMs.
And here’s another appealing factor. Prosecutors are worried that Manafort might try to jump on a commercial airliner and flee. So, one of the conditions of his release is that he must stay away from airports.
In New York City and Washington, D.C., he has multiple options and scores of passengers in those busy terminals to mask his arrival and departure.
But if he tried to make a break for it at Palm Beach International Airport, the odds would be against him.
Unlike the New York City airports or Reagan International Airport in Washington, D.C., there is rarely more than 10 people in the concourse areas of Palm Beach International — and three of them are mopping the floors.
It would be impossible to get lost in the crowd there. And even if he did make it past security and into the gate area, the feds would have extra time to get to the airport and stop him due to the excessive time it takes to board the mandatory two dozen wheelchair passengers on every flight.
And then if he gets on a plane at PBIA, where’s he going to run to? There are no flights to Europe. The only international flights are to Canada and the Bahamas — and the Bahamas doesn’t even have a Russian embassy for asylum.
Manafort’s best bet might be a Frontier flight to Trenton, and hope that Chris Christie has a plan.
Of course, the other reason to send Manafort to Palm Beach Gardens will be that it puts him within visiting distance of President Donald Trump, the president Manafort helped get elected.
Trump’s weekend winter getaway, the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, is a 16-mile car ride from Manafort’s BallenIsles home. And being so close to Trump might provide Manafort with the opportunity to have an epiphany.
Especially if he decides to pop into Mar-a-Lago on a Saturday night and use the opportunity to reminisce with Trump about the good times they shared.
Like that time at the Republican National Convention when they got in Russia’s good graces by getting the Republican Party to eliminate that plank in the convention that called for arming the Ukrainians.
And Trump could use the opportunity to remind Manafort about how everything that dealt with Russia never happened. And come to think of it, he never met Manafort before.
An astonished Manafort might respond, “Pardon me?”
“I don’t think so,” Trump would say. “You’re on your own.”
“I knew I should have taken the plea deal like Mike Flynn,” Manafort would finally say to himself as he rushes back to Palm Beach Gardens to make his curfew.
Yes, it’s good Manafort will be here while his case is pending.