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Corruption in PDF: Federal Crimes Edition

Slate magazine reports today that Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s recent indictment of Paul J. Manafort and Richard W. Gates reveals that at least part of Manafort’s serious problem stems from his lack of basic knowledge of modern electronic document technology. Seeking to alter a profit-and-loss statement to his advantage in an attempt to defraud a potential lender, Manafort emailed the original PDF document to his associate (Gates) and requested that it be converted to Word so Manafort cou … Read more
About the author: The PDF Association staff delivers a vendor-neutral platform for PDF’s stakeholders, facilitating the development of open specifications and ISO standards for PDF technology. The staff are located in Germany, the … Read more
PDF Association staff

PDF Association staff
February 23, 2018

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Manafort indictment screenshotSlate magazine reports today that Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s recent indictment of Paul J. Manafort and Richard W. Gates reveals that at least part of Manafort’s serious problem stems from his lack of basic knowledge of modern electronic document technology.

Seeking to alter a profit-and-loss statement to his advantage in an attempt to defraud a potential lender, Manafort emailed the original PDF document to his associate (Gates) and requested that it be converted to Word so Manafort could make the desired changes, which Gates dutifully did.

After altering the Word file, Manafort then needed Gates' help again to convert the Word file into a new PDF.

In so doing, Manafort’s poor fieldcraft left a clear trail of corrupt intent. The emails, and Gates' testimony, can utterly sink him.

Slate misses a detail, however. Converting from PDF to Word for the purposes of surreptitiously altering text in the PDF document is a foolish way to commit fraud and break federal law at several levels:

  • Authenticity: Due to font substitution, text placement and other factors, the Word file resulting from such a conversion is unlikely to look precisely the same as the original.
  • It's unnecessary: Savvy PDF users know that unencrypted or PDF files or those lacking a digital signature are entirely editable; no conversion to Word or programming skills required. Changing text directly in a PDF file is easy for anyone with Adobe Acrobat, Foxit Phantom, Nitro Pro or other commonplace PDF editor software packages with little or no loss in fidelity compared to the original document.

Manafort could have readily altered the PDF himself. Had he done so, he would have avoided a key part of the paper trail that may land him in federal prison. He probably even had a PDF editor already on his computer.

In the money-laundering business, after all, it seems likely that one would frequently need to assemble pages from multiple PDF files; you need a PDF editor for that. For most of his money-laundering career, Manafort was almost certainly just one or two clicks away from the editor mode.

He didn't even Google "edit text in PDF".

Whatever your profession, if you work with electronic documents, it's best to know more than Manafort.

Download the indictment for yourself.

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