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New charges brought against ex-Trump campaign associates

WASHINGTON — Dramatically escalating the pressure and stakes, special counsel Robert Mueller filed additional criminal charges Thursday against President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman and his business associate.

The filing adds allegations of tax evasion and bank fraud and significantly increases the legal jeopardy facing Paul Manafort, who managed Trump's campaign for several months in 2016, and longtime associate Rick Gates. Both had already faced the prospect of at least a decade in prison if convicted at trial.

The two men were initially charged in a 12-count indictment in October that accused them of a multimillion-dollar money-laundering conspiracy tied to lobbying work for a Russia-friendly Ukrainian political party. Manafort and Gates, who also worked on Trump's campaign, both pleaded not guilty after that indictment.

The new charges, contained in a 32-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Virginia, allege that Manafort and Gates doctored financial documents, lied to tax preparers and defrauded banks — using money they cycled through offshore accounts to spend lavishly, including on real estate, interior decorating and other luxury goods.

The new criminal case, assigned to U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, comes a week after a separate Mueller indictment charged 13 Russians and three companies in a conspiracy to undermine the 2016 U.S. presidential election through a hidden social media propaganda effort. The charges against Manafort and Gates don't relate to any allegations of misconduct related to Trump's campaign, though Mueller is continuing to investigate potential ties to the Kremlin.

Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni said in a statement that the former Trump campaign chairman is innocent and stressed that the charges "have nothing to do with Russia and 2016 election interference/collusion."

Manafort "is confident that he will be acquitted of all charges," Maloni said.

The charges against Manafort and Gates arise from their foreign lobbying and efforts that prosecutors say they made to conceal their income by disguising it as loans from offshore companies. More recently, after their Ukrainian work dwindled, the indictment also accuses them of fraudulently obtaining more than $20 million in loans from financial institutions.

The new indictment increases the amount of money Manafort, with the assistance of Gates, is accused of laundering to $30 million. It also charges Manafort and Gates with filing false tax returns from 2010 through 2014 and in most of those years concealing their foreign bank accounts from the IRS.

The indictment contains references to other conspirators who are accused of helping Manafort and Gates in obtaining fraudulent loans. It doesn't name the conspirators but notes that one of them worked at one of the lenders.

In a document that accompanied the new indictment, prosecutors said they had filed the charges in Virginia, rather than Washington where the other case is pending, because the alleged conduct occurred there and one of the defendants objected to them being brought in Washington. It did not say which defendant objected.

The indictment comes amid ongoing turmoil in the Manafort and Gates defense camps. Manafort has been unable to reach an agreement with prosecutors over the terms of his bail and remains under house arrest, while Gates' lawyers withdrew from the case after acknowledging "irreconcilable differences" with their client. A new lawyer, Thomas Green, entered an appearance Thursday on Gates' behalf.

Green confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday evening that he represented Gates but did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new charges.

Mueller was appointed in May to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. He took over an ongoing FBI investigation into Manafort's foreign lobbying work.

After a two-month stretch that produced no charges, the new indictment is part of a flurry of activity for Mueller's team within the past week.

Besides the charges against the Russians, Mueller's team on Tuesday unsealed a guilty plea from a Dutch lawyer who admitted he lied to investigators about his contacts with Gates.

Two other people who aided Trump in the campaign or in the White House — former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos — have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their foreign contacts. Neither man has been sentenced. Both are cooperating with the investigation.

Mueller is also examining whether Trump obstructed justice through actions including the firing last May of FBI Director James Comey. His team has expressed interest in interviewing the president.

Three families escape apartment building blaze in Moreau, one firefighter hurt

MOREAU — At least 16 people were left homeless and a firefighter was hurt Thursday when fire tore through a three-family apartment building on Bluebird Road.

The fire was reported just before 3:30 p.m. at 117 Bluebird Road, just east of Moreau Elementary School. At least six fire departments were sent to the scene as flames ripped from the back of the building, with smoke visible from more than a mile away. It had been knocked down by 5 p.m.

The two-story apartment building is home to three families and approximately 16 people, including 10 children, according to residents and neighbors.

A firefighter was hurt when he fell off the second-story roof while fighting the fire. He was conscious and able to move his arms as he was taken from the scene by Moreau Rescue Squad members.

South Glens Falls Fire Chief Nicholas Quinn said no information about his condition was being released as of Thursday night.

Jahrael Lewis, a resident of the building, said a woman who lived in the apartment in the back of the building alerted him to the fire, which she told him started in her apartment. Lewis lived in his apartment with Suzanne Creech and four children.

“My neighbor from the back of the building came running up, yelling to call 911, that her stovetop caught on fire,” he said. “I’m just glad everyone got out.”

The family has several young children, including a baby, Creech said.

Shane Carpenter, who lived on the second floor with his wife and three children, said his wife had taken their children out for lunch during school break, but they likely would have been in their apartment had it been a school day. He was at work and rushed home as the fire broke out.

He said he had family with whom to stay. He and other residents said they don’t believe they have renter’s insurance, though.

Fire was seen shooting out of windows in the back and sides of of the building, tearing through and heavily damaging much of it. The entire back of the building, where the fire started, was burned as well.

The firefighter who was hurt was part of a team of two who went on the snow-covered roof as flames burst through, but it was unclear what department he was from. He fell backward as he approached a ladder.

The cause was also under investigation, and Saratoga County fire investigators were on the scene as well. Quinn said late Thursday that the department would send out a press release about the fire at some point.

County property tax records show the property is owned by Katherine Doody.

South Glens Falls, Fort Edward, Hudson Falls, Wilton, West Glens Falls and Gansevoort fire departments were sent to the scene, as well as Moreau Rescue, State Police and the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office.

NY-21: Crowded Democratic field trails far behind Stefanik in cash

With early Federal Election Commission reports filed, NY-21 Democratic congressional candidates seeking to unseat incumbent Elise Stefanik, R- Willsboro, have a long road ahead to reach the $1.13 million the congresswoman has raised to date.

“She’s got more discretionary money that I suspect she will hold onto until the general election, because it is going to be a competitive race,” said Wendy Johnston, assistant professor of political science at SUNY Adirondack on Tuesday.

Current FEC data shows Democratic challenger Don Boyajian, Cambridge, inching closer to Stefanik, with $353,478 raised; followed by Democrats Tedra Cobb, Canton, $217, 546; Tanya Boone, Granville, $141,095; Emily Martz, Saranac Lake, $128,492; Katie Wilson, Keene, $83,640; Patrick Nelson, Stillwater, $36,084; and Ron Kim, Queensbury, $7,637.

At this time there is no FEC data on Democrats Sara Idleman, Greenwich; David Mastrianni, Schroon Lake; and Republican Russ Finley, Lisbon.

On Thursday, Boone, of Granville, and Idleman, of Greenwich, announced they are dropping out of the race.

“There are so many people in the race; it’s difficult to build momentum. We need a strong message,” Boone said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “I think this is the right thing to do and let others begin to build momentum to take on Elise Stefanik.”

Boone said she chatted with the other Democratic challengers on Thursday and she will be supporting a candidate soon.

In a January straw poll at the beginning of a NY-21 Candidates Forum at the Moreau Community Center in South Glens Falls, more than half attending said they had not yet selected a candidate to support.

“I think they are holding back from donating until the field narrows. They are holding back and waiting,” Johnston said. “On the flip side, voters need to start supporting a candidate of choice.”

The way Johnston explains it, the available funding is getting spread thin among so many candidates, while if the field is narrowed to two or three, money won’t be dispersed in so many directions.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan data research agency, the average winner of a U.S. House race in 2010 spent about $1.4 million. In 2016, Stefanik won by a large margin after raising more than $3 million.

Historically, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, House re-election rates are generally high, but in 2016 the congressional election had one of the lowest re-election rates in the past 40 years.

Incumbents are considered safe bets and that’s why they raise more money, Johnston said.

The bulk of Stefanik’s campaign money — $671,417 or 58 percent — comes from PAC contributions; 28 percent from large individual contributions; and 5 percent, or $64,350, from small individual donors.

One top large individual donor this year is the Clearpath Foundation, promoting energy resources like “clean coal,” nuclear energy and fracking.

Eye of the Tiger PAC, which receives funding from Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, David H. Koch Charitable Foundation and Koch Industries, owned by David and Charles Koch, was among the top “ideological leadership” PACs donating to Stefanik’s campaign to date.

Major industry PACS that have donated to her campaign include the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry.

Conversely, nearly all of Nelson’s campaign money (68 percent) has come from small individual contributions under $200. For Kim, that figure is 52 percent.

Boyajian (86 percent), Cobb (72 percent), Boone (66 percent), Martz (59 percent) and Wilson (72 percent) have the largest percentage of contributions coming from large individual donors.

Regarding Boone’s campaign funds? “We will pay out any contracts we have,” she said. “We can return donations if someone requests, the rest is maintained in a fund in case I want to run again or run for another office.”

The FEC sets campaign contribution limits, and for 2017-2018, individuals may only give $2,700 to each candidate or candidate committee; $5,000 to each PAC; $10,000 (combined) to state, district, and local party committees per calendar year; $33,900 to a national party committee per calendar year; and $101,700 additionally to a national committee account.

Also of note are increasingly common congressional victory funds, with lawmakers joining to fund-raise together. According to Open Secrets, in 2016, Stefanik received $33,000 from the Curbello Victory Fund. In this election cycle, Stefanik can draw from the Elise Victory Fund.

Although money wins elections, Johnston said there are other factors.

“Often it comes down to the climate, if voters are driven by the economy and the incumbent did not do well with the economy, they may vote the incumbent out,” she said. “Two years ago, Stefanik was strong financially and had a strong showing. But that was two years ago, and two years makes a lot of difference.”

Courtesy photo