Manafort’s Light Sentence A Sign of Unequal Justice

Statement of Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn

Paul Manafort purposefully committed bank and tax crimes, was facing 19-25 years in prison, but was only sentenced to 47 months. Meanwhile, a black woman in Texas named Crystal Mason accidentally violated the law while voting in the 2016 presidential election and was sentenced to 5 years. Manafort’s lenient sentence shows something severely wrong with the justice system in our nation. Apparently, too often we have one for the wealthy, white, and politically connected, and another for ordinary people, especially people of color.

Not only was Paul Manafort convicted of defrauding banks and cheating on his taxes, he even vowed to cooperate with federal prosecutors and then lied to them. He received a sentence of less than four years in prison. But Crystal Mason was sentenced last year for voting while still under community supervision for a fraud conviction. She did not realize she was not allowed to vote in Texas once she got out of prison. She made an honest mistake and was punished severely. Paul Manafort’s crimes were extensive and premeditated and he received less than one-quarter of the recommended sentence.

There is no doubt that Manafort’s wealth, connections, and white privilege granted him the leniency and benefit of the doubt that people like Crystal Mason, and thousands of others convinced of minor, often nonviolent, crimes, are routinely denied.

Manafort still has another sentencing ahead of him and a chance for justice to be served. Perhaps the outrage generated by yesterday’s light sentence will give another judge pause before handing down unequal justice from the bench.

Americans are fed up with a political culture of influence peddling and corruption — and hope that Manafort and those like him who enable public officials to put their own personal gain above the common good will be held accountable.