Feds Say Chicago Banker Loaned Manafort Money In Hopes Of Trump Administration Job

Prosecutors unsealed bribery charges Thursday against a Chicago banker who made loans to Paul Manafort allegedly expecting they would help him get a top job in the Trump administration.

A grand jury in Manhattan returned an indictment against Stephen Calk, chairman of Federal Savings Bank, in a case with strong echoes of the earlier ones made against Manafort, who has since been convicted and sentenced to prison.

Bank employees testified last year in Manafort's case in federal court in Northern Virginia, where much of the story was first revealed. Some witnesses received immunity from prosecution because of the alleged illegal activity.

Calk, who did not receive an immunity deal, was expected in federal court on Thursday in New York City.

The borrower

Manafort had earned millions of dollars from earlier political work for the government of Ukraine, enabling him to splash out on property and other goodies — but by 2016, when that income dried up following the collapse of the old regime, he was forced to look for loans to sustain his lifestyle.

Specifically, Manafort looked to Calk — "urgently," prosecutors say in court documents, "to terminate or avoid foreclosure proceedings on multiple properties."

The banker was game to provide the cash, according to the indictment, because he "believed [Manafort] could use his influence with the presidential transition team to assist Calk in obtaining a senior administration position."

So Calk agreed to provide Manafort with loans that eventually totaled $16 million, even though the banker and his aides were aware of what prosecutors call "significant red flags" regarding the likelihood they would be repaid.

And, indeed, the bank later went on to write off the loans as a loss — but not before Calk gave something else to Manafort: a list of the jobs he wanted in the new administration.

The jobs

The posts Calk wanted included secretary of the Treasury, secretary of defense and secretary of the Army, according to prosecutors.

Calk was able to get an interview with Trump's transition team in New York City in late 2016, after Trump added Calk to his economic advisory council that August.

Members of the council included Steven Mnuchin, now secretary of the Treasury; Peter Navarro, now a top adviser on trade and manufacturing; Stephen Moore, whom Trump wanted to nominate to the board of the Federal Reserve, and others.

Meanwhile, Calk had to do a lot of work on behalf of Manafort inside his enterprise, according to court documents. Manafort's requests for money increased, but loan officers and other officials on the lender side continued to learn about what a poor risk he was.

A lower-ranking manager rejected the deal.

Calk allegedly intervened after Election Day and, notwithstanding the objections from his own team, approved Manafort's loan, making arrangements to circumvent the bank's internal barriers.

The former campaign chairman, meanwhile, continued to preserve his contacts with the transition team and advocate for his banker, pushing him as a prospective Cabinet official or ambassador.

The relationship didn't work out as either party planned. Calk got no job, and Manafort has lost much of his wealth as the result of his own criminal cases, which required large cessions to the government in addition to the prison time.

FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said the story proves that alleged fraud and bribery won't succeed.

"As alleged, Calk went to great lengths to avoid banking violations in an attempt to secure a senior position in a presidential administration," Sweeney said.

He continued: "[Calk] curried favor with an influential borrower, exploited his position as CEO of the bank and the holding company, and exercised control over the bank and the borrower's loans, intentionally turning his back on the many red flags posted along the way. His attempt at petitioning for political favors was unsuccessful in more ways than one — he didn't get the job he wanted, and he compromised the one he had."

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.