- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2018

A banker testified Friday that his boss extended risky loans to Paul Manafort because he wanted to earn chits with the Trump campaign, painting a picture of Mr. Manafort financially benefiting from his role with the future president.

Dennis Raico, a senior vice president at Federal Savings Bank in Chicago, said his boss, the bank’s founder and CEO, Stephen Calk, pushed approval of $16 million in loans to Mr. Manafort, hoping to curry favor.

Mr. Raico said he was uneasy about the interactions — including at one point when Mr. Calk asked him to call Mr. Manafort to find out if Mr. Calk was under consideration for a high post in the new administration. Mr. Calk was angling to become either Treasury secretary or secretary of housing and urban development, Mr. Raico said.

“It made me very uncomfortable,” said Mr. Raico, who said he didn’t make the call.

The banker testified Friday at the end of the second week of Mr. Manafort’s trial on federal bank and tax fraud charges in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.

Mr. Raico said he had concerns Mr. Manafort would have been approved for the bank’s loans were Mr. Calk not interested in exploiting Mr. Manafort’s position.

“A plus B didn’t equal C all the time,” Mr. Raico said.

Mr. Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2017, was named chairman in May and was ousted in August amid questions over his role in working for pro-Russian interests in his consulting business.

Rick Gates, Mr. Manafort’s business partner who also went to work for the campaign, testified earlier this week that after leaving the campaign Mr. Manafort would contact him to try to win special consideration for Mr. Calk.

Both Mr. Raico and Gates said Mr. Calk and Mr. Manafort worked to get Mr. Calk onto an economic advisory committee for the campaign, and later Mr. Manafort tried to get an administration post for his banker.

Despite concerns, Mr. Manafort ultimately was approved for the two loans. The first one, for $9.5 million, was approved on Nov. 16, 2016, shortly after Donald Trump was elected president. A second loan for $6.5 million was secured on Jan. 4, 2017, just before the inauguration. But the application and approval process started in 2016, while Mr. Manafort was still involved in the Trump campaign.

In fact, Mr. Calk intervened to secure one of the loans for Mr. Manafort even after bank President Javier Ubarri scuttled the idea, Mr. Raico said.

Mr. Raico, described in a great detail a loan approval process so unusual, Mr. Manafort was dictating his own terms.

In an Oct. 6, 2016, email to Mr. Calk, Mr. Manafort said he could repay the loan in about six months, but “would prefer not to do so.”

“I look to your cleverness in how to manage the underwriting,” he told the bank CEO in an email displayed in the courtroom. Mr. Calk wrote back that he would “look into this right away.”

Nearly everything about Mr. Manafort’s loan deviated from the bank’s normal approval process, Mr. Raico said, indicating that Mr. Calk had been working hard to win favor with the Trump campaign.

“I hadn’t seen a loan restricted at the closing table before, and I hadn’t seen Steve Calk approve restructuring of a loan,” Mr. Raico said.

Without Mr. Calk’s interference, Mr. Manafort normally would not have qualified for a loan, Mr. Raico testified. One concern was nearly $200,000 in charges on his American Express, used to purchase New York Yankees season tickets. The credit card statement had two charges of $99,000 and another for $10,000 for the baseball tickets.

When questioned about the massive debt, Mr. Manafort said he lent the card to “a friend,” and expected to be repaid shortly. Mr. Raico said he believed the friend was Gates.

But under cross examination, Mr. Raico admitted that three members of the bank’s credit approval committee — not just Mr. Calk — had voted to approve the loan to Mr. Manafort.

Manafort attorney Richard Westling sought to dispel the notion the loans were a risk to the bank. He said Mr. Manafort put up collateral to back the loans, even noting that his client offered an additional $2.5 million in backing through his Virginia property.

Mr. Raico admitted that Mr. Manafort provided $15 million in collateral for the $9.5 million.

A second witness, Ifran Kirimca, a ticket manager for the Yankees, testified that Mr. Manafort paid for his season tickets through foreign bank accounts. That testimony directly disputed Mr. Manfort’s representation to the bankers that Gates had purchased the tickets with his card.

Mr. Kirimca said that was not true and there was no record that Gates ever bought tickets or requested tickets be shipped to him.

The tickets were mailed to Mr. Manafort’s Trump Tower. Prosecutors said showed an email from a Yankees ticket employee Mr. Manfort asking he and his wife will be attending Opening Day. Mr. Manafort responded that they would.

Prosecutors have alleged those bank account used to buy the tickets were used by Mr. Manafort to shield his income from the IRS.

One payment to the Yankees, for $226,800, came from the overseas accounts created in Cyprus.

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