A Chicago bank owner traded $16 million in loans to ex-President Donald Trump's ex-campaign manager in a bid for a prestigious position in Trump's administration, a prosecutor told jurors in an opening statement Wednesday before a defense attorney assured them that the banker committed no crimes.
“This is a case about greed, but not greed for money. Greed for power, for prestige, for importance,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexandra Rothman said shortly before pointing out Stephen Calk to a Manhattan jury and describing his dealings with Paul Manafort, who led Trump's presidential campaign for several months five years ago.
She recalled election night 2016, saying that Calk, the former chief executive of The Federal Savings Bank, messaged Manafort after it became clear Trump had won the election to promise that a $9.5 million real estate construction loan that had seemed stalled, if not dead, would be “wrapped up the next day.”
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Within weeks, Calk was interviewing at Trump Tower for a position in the administration and was eagerly pushing through another $6.5 million to Manafort so he could finish construction on a Brooklyn condominium and avoid foreclosure, Rothman said.
Manafort, the prosecutor said, was seen by Calk as “his personal piggybank to try to buy himself prestige and power."
Still, Rothman said, Calk never was granted any Trump administration position he put on his wish list, including head of the Treasury, Commerce or Defense Departments. And he also didn't get what he claimed was his “No. 1 desire,” to be Secretary of the Army, she added.
He did gain media exposure, though, from his voluntary role on the Trump campaign's Economic Advisory Council, where he served with other high-profile business leaders advising Trump, she said.
Manafort was ousted in 2016 from Trump’s campaign over his ties to Ukraine. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation led to his criminal conviction and a sentence of over seven years in prison for financial crimes related to his political consulting work in Ukraine. In December, Trump pardoned him.
Paul Schoeman, Calk's attorney, urged jurors to question throughout the trial whether his client thought anything he was doing was wrong.
“The answer is going to be no,” he said.
Schoeman said the Manafort loans were unanimously approved by the bank's loan committee and by underwriters on terms that gave Manafort no break on interest rates or fees and required more collateral than the loans were worth.
The defense attorney said Calk consulted with Manafort about how to get a position with the administration, just as he had done with various military generals and other prominent individuals he thought might have good advice.
He said Calk “didn’t think he was doing anything corrupt because he thought he was getting great loans for his bank.”
At the time, Manafort seemed wealthy and successful and “a rock star in the world of politics” who had advised former presidents as far back as Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, Schoeman said.
The lawyer said Calk did not know that Manafort was giving the bank false financial statements and “was not nearly as wealthy or successful as he pretended to be.”
Schoeman said Calk was “excited” when Trump won the presidency and would have been “thrilled and honored” to secure a job that would let him support the troops because he had long operated his bank in a manner that helped veterans after his honorary discharge as a captain with the Army Reserve.
The lawyer also warned jurors that the case was not about “partisan politics.”
“The name Donald Trump is going to come up during this trial. Some people like him. Some people don’t. But don’t let it influence you in this case,” he said. “Mr. Calk did not commit a crime. He did not make a corrupt deal. He is not guilty of these charges.”