United States v. Manafort

Decision Date21 June 2018
Docket NumberCrim. Action No. 17–0201–01 (ABJ)
Citation313 F.Supp.3d 213
Parties UNITED STATES of America, v. Paul J. MANAFORT, Jr., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Adam C. Jed, Andrew Weissmann, Elizabeth Barchas Prelogar, Greg Donald Andres, Kyle Renee Freeny, Michael Richard Dreeben, Scott A.C. Meisler, U.S. Department of Justice Special Counsel's Office, Washington, DC, for United States of America.

Kevin M. Downing, Law Office of Kevin M. Downing, Richard William Westling, Epstein Becker & Green, P.C., Thomas Edward Zehnle, Law Office of Thomas E. Zehnle, Washington, DC, for Defendant.


AMY BERMAN JACKSON, United States District Judge

Defendant Paul J. Manafort, Jr. has moved to suppress the evidence obtained when the FBI executed a search warrant issued by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, and it seized business records contained in boxes and a filing cabinet in a self-storage unit in Alexandria, Virginia. Manafort argues that the search was unlawful because the agents entered the storage unit and looked around without a warrant the day before they presented their request for a warrant to the court. While they did not open the boxes or review the papers filed in the drawers on that day, they described the exterior of the containers they observed, including the labels on the boxes, in the warrant application. Therefore, Manafort claims, the warrantless initial entry tainted the later search of the files that was authorized by the warrant. He also argues that the warrant itself was too broad to comport with the Constitution for a number of reasons, including that it was not limited to a particular time period and it called for broad categories of financial records.

The defendant's motion will be denied. Law enforcement agents do not need a warrant to enter a location if they have voluntary consent, and they do not need to have the consent of the person under investigation if they receive permission from a third party who has, or who reasonably appears to have, common authority over the place to be searched. Here, the agents obtained a copy of the lease for the storage unit. The person identified as the lessee or "occupant" of the storage unit was an employee of a company owned by Manafort who had a key to the premises, and he unlocked the door for the agents and gave them written permission to enter. Therefore, the preliminary inspection of the unit falls within the consent exception to the warrant requirement.

Furthermore, the agents did obtain a search warrant in compliance with the Fourth Amendment for the containers within the storage unit before they opened any of the boxes or drawers or examined the records inside. A review of the warrant affidavit reveals that even if the initial survey of the unit was unlawful, that finding would not invalidate the seizure of the records that was carried out in accordance with the warrant. The affidavit in support of the warrant application set out the agent's reasons to believe that Manafort had been engaged in criminal activity in the conduct of his business, and that his business records had been moved to, and remained in, the locker rented for that purpose. So, if one were to excise the challenged information from the application, and presume that the Magistrate Judge was presented with a warrant application that did not include the few paragraphs describing the contents of the storage unit and the labels on the boxes, the affidavit would still support a finding of probable cause to believe that a crime or crimes had been committed and that records related to those crimes were likely to be found in the unit.

Finally, the warrant was not overbroad since it called for records related to specific offenses detailed in the application and in the warrant itself. And even if this Court were to conclude that the warrant could or should be have been more tightly drawn, the agents relied in good faith on a warrant that had been reviewed and signed by a United States Magistrate Judge, and therefore, the evidence seized during the execution of the warrant should not, and will not, be excluded.

I. Procedural History

On April 6, 2018, defendant filed his motion to suppress evidence seized pursuant to the warrant authorizing the search of the premises located at 370 Holland Lane, Unit 3013, in Alexandria, Virginia on the grounds that the search violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Def.'s Mot. to Suppress Evid. and All Fruits Thereof Relating to the Gov't Search of the Storage Unit Located in Alexandria, Virginia [Dkt. # 257] ("Def.'s Mot.") at 1, 19–20. The government opposed the motion, Gov't Mem. in Opp. to Def.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 283] ("Gov't Opp."), defendant replied, Def.'s Reply to Gov't Opp. [Dkt. # 287] ("Def.'s Reply"), and the Court heard argument on May 23, 2018.

II. Applicable Facts

On May 26, 2017, an FBI agent met with a former employee of Davis Manafort Partners, who is currently a salaried employee of Steam Mountain, LLC, another business operated by the defendant. Aff. in Supp. of an Appl. for a Search Warrant [Dkt. # 257–1] ("FBI Aff.") ¶ 28. The employee stated "that he performs a variety of functions for Manafort and his companies as directed by Manafort." Id. He reported that "in approximately 2015, at the direction of Manafort, [he] moved a series of office files of Manafort's business contained in boxes from one smaller storage unit at 370 Holland Lane, Alexandria, Virginia to a larger storage unit, at the same storage facility, also at 370 Holland Lane, Alexandria, Virginia. [The employee] advised that he personally moved the office files into Unit 3013 at that location, and that the files were still in that unit." Id.

Later the same day, the employee led the agent to the storage facility, where the agent obtained a copy of the lease for Unit 3013 from the manager of the facility. FBI Aff. ¶ 29. The lease identifies the employee as the "Occupant" of the unit, and also identifies defendant as "Occupant's Authorized Access Person[ ]" and Richard Gates, with whom defendant worked in Ukraine, as "Alternate Contact."1 Id. ¶¶ 29, 35; Lease Agreement [Dkt. # 257–3] ("Lease") at 1. The lease states: "By INITIALING HERE [the employee] Occupant acknowledges that the above information is correct, that unless Occupant is identified above as a business[,] Occupant is a consumer," Lease at 1, and that "the Owner agrees to let the Occupant use and occupy a space in the self-service storage facility." Lease ¶ 1. It further provides that "[t]he space named in the agreement is to be used by the Occupant solely for the purpose of storing any personal property belonging to the Occupant," Lease ¶ 5, and that "Occupant shall not assign or sublease the Premises." Lease ¶ 15(e).

The employee provided law enforcement with a key to unlock the unit, and he described the contents of the unit: boxes of office files from defendant's business and a metal filing cabinet containing additional, more recent office files from defendant's business. FBI Aff. ¶ 30. He explained that he moved the filing cabinet from defendant's former residence in Virginia in the spring of 2015, and he "indicated that Manafort was using his former residence as an office at the time." Id. The agent noted in his affidavit that the employee stated that the cabinet was extremely heavy, "indicating that it contained a large amount of records." Id. The employee was unable to describe the contents of the filing cabinet in detail, but he stated that Manafort occasionally sent him emails directing him to put certain records, which the employee described as "brown, legal-sized files," into the filing cabinet on Manafort's behalf. Id. His recollection was that he last added to the filing cabinet in the spring of 2016. Id.

The agent provided the employee with a written consent form which stated:

1. I have been asked by Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to permit a complete search of [the unit].
2. I have been advised of my right to refuse consent.
3. I give this permission voluntarily.
4. I authorize the agents to take any items which they determine may be related to their investigation.

Consent Form [Dkt. # 283–2]. The form identified the storage unit, and the employee signed the consent form. See Consent Form; FBI Aff. ¶ 31. The employee then used the key in his possession to open the unit in the presence of the agent. FBI Aff. ¶ 31. The agent reports that "[w]ithout opening any boxes or filing cabinet drawers," he observed "approximately 21 bankers' boxes that could contain documents, as well as a five-drawer metal filing cabinet" inside the unit. Id. None of the file drawers were marked as to their contents, but some of the boxes bore labels such as "Admin," with subcategories including "Tax Returns," and "Box 12 Ukraine Binders," including subcategories such as "Surrogates," "Political," and "Media," which led the agent to conclude that they contained information related to, among other things, taxes, finances, and international activities connected to Ukraine and a company called Manhattan Productions International, in which defendant has a stake. Id. ¶¶ 31–35.

Afterwards, the unit was locked and surveilled while the agent sought a warrant authorizing the search of the unit and its contents. Id. ¶¶ 38, 46; Application for a Search Warrant [Dkt. # 257–1]. United States Magistrate Judge Theresa Carroll Buchanan signed the warrant on May 27, 2017. Search and Seizure Warrant [Dkt. # 257–2] ("Warrant").

The warrant authorized agents to search the storage unit, including "any locked drawers, locked containers, safes, computers, electronic devices, and storage media," Warrant, Attach. A, and to seize certain records. Specifically, the warrant authorized seizure of eight categories of "[r]ecords relating to violations of 31 U.S.C. §§ 5314, 5322(a) (Failure to File a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts), 22 U.S.C. §...

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