Former RBHS board president testifies at Manafort trial

Mike Welch, an IRS agent, called as witness by special counsel

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

Former Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 school board president and Riverside resident Mike Welch had a moment in the national spotlight on Aug. 8 when he testified as an expert witness for the prosecution in the tax evasion trial of Paul Manafort, who served for a time as President Donald Trump's campaign chairman.

The Manafort trial is taking place in a federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia and is the first trial resulting from investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference into the 2016 presidential campaign. 

Welch, an IRS agent who specializes in criminal investigations, was on the witness stand for about an hour late Wednesday afternoon. According to the accounts of Welch's testimony in the New York Times and Washington Post, he testified that Manafort did not pay income taxes on nearly $16.5 million of income he earned doing political consulting work in Ukraine from 2010-2014, before he was involved in Trump's presidential campaign.

Welch testified that Manafort filed false income tax returns by failing to report income that he earned in Ukraine.

When contacted by the Landmark, Welch declined to comment about his role in the trial.

According to both the Washington Post and New York Times, Welch also testified that Manafort failed to check a box on his income tax returns indicating he controlled foreign bank accounts

Welch has testified in many criminal cases in his 34-year career with the IRS, including the corruption trial of former Cicero Mayor Betty Loren-Maltese.

His testimony in the Manafort trial caused some controversy, because Welch had been in the courtroom watching the trial since it began last week. Most witnesses are not allowed to be in a courtroom observing a trial before they testify.

But expert witnesses are often allowed to observe a trial before testifying, and Federal District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III ruled that Welch's long experience qualified him as an expert.

But when Assistant United States Attorney Uzo Asonye informed Ellis that Welch had been in the courtroom since the beginning of the trial the judge got angry. According to the Washington Post, Ellis told Asonye that he typically bars all witnesses, except for the case agent, from being in his courtroom prior to testifying even expert witnesses.

But, the Post reported, the court transcript confirmed that Ellis had allowed Welch to be in the courtroom prior to testifying.

An irate Ellis allowed Welch to testify, but he warned Asonye not to call any more witnesses who have observed the trial before testifying.

"I don't care what the transcript said; maybe I made a mistake," Ellis told Asonye according to the Washington Post. "Don't do it again."

On Aug. 9, the judge apologized for scolding Asonye over the matter, according to the Washington Post.

Welch served for eight years on the District 208 school board before deciding not to run for a third term in 2017. He served as school board president from 2015 to 2017.

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