Former top Trump White House advisor Steve Bannon was criminally charged in New York on Thursday with a scheme to fraudulently funnel and obscure salary payments to the CEO of a non-profit fundraising effort to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg Jr. said that Bannon “acted as the architect of a multi-million dollar scheme to defraud thousands of donors across the country — including hundreds of Manhattan residents.”
Bragg said that Bannon, “We Build the Wall” Chief Executive Officer Brian Kolfage and others involved in that campaign had repeatedly claimed that Kolfage would not be paid “a penny” for his work.
“But instead of pennies, [Kolfage] received more than $250,000 in a salary fund by donations,” Bragg said.
“At least $140,000 of which, we allege, was laundered by Stephen Bannon,” said Bragg, who spoke several hours after Bannon surrendered at Manhattan Criminal Court to face a grand jury indictment, which also charged WeBuildtheWall Inc.
The district attorney said that Bannon throughout 2019 directed the We Build the Wall campaign to pay a non-profit that Bannon controlled “tens of thousands of dollars at a time.”
“Bannon’s not-for-profit then paid a salary to [Kolfage], thereby obscuring the source of the funds, in direct contradiction to the many promises made by Bannon, We Build the Wall, and other associates in this scheme,” Bragg said.
A handcuffed Bannon, 68, appeared later Thursday in court for arraignment on six criminal counts, which include money laundering, conspiracy and scheme to defraud.
He pleaded not guilty through his lawyer, David Schoen.
A prosecutor asked Judge Juan Merchan to order Bannon, as a condition of his release on bail to immediately surrender any passports and to not apply for any new passports during the case.
“He’s not going anywhere,” Schoen said as he agreed to those conditions, which were imposed by the judge.
“He intends to fight these charges all the way,” the lawyer said.
Merchan ordered Bannon to return to court on Oct. 3 for a status hearing, and said he expected Bannon to appear as well for all subsequent proceedings.
Bannon faces a potential maximum sentence of five to 15 years in prison if convicted of money laundering, the most serious charge in the indictment. He faces two counts of that charge.
The new indictment comes more than two years after Bannon was arrested on federal charges that he and three other men defrauded donors who gave $25 million or more to fund the We Build the Wall campaign. That campaign supported the intention of then-President Donald Trump to build a wall along the southern border of the United States.
Trump pardoned Bannon in that federal case on his last night before leaving office in January 2021.
Presidential pardons only apply to federal crimes, and do not protect people from prosecution on state charges like the ones Bannon now faces in Manhattan.
Kolfage and another man, Andrew Badolato, pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the wall scheme in April. They are scheduled to be sentenced in December.
The federal trial of a third defendant in that case, Timothy Shea, ended with a deadlocked jury in June. Shea is scheduled to be retried next month.
None of the three men in that federal case were charged in Thursday’s indictment against Bannon.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose office participated in the investigation, said, “There cannot be one set of rules for everyday people and another for the wealthy and powerful – we all must play by the same rules and must obey the law.”
“Mr. Bannon took advantage of his donors’ political views to secure millions of dollars which he then misappropriated. Mr. Bannon lied to his donors to enrich himself and his friends,” James said.
As he walked into Manhattan Criminal Court on Thursday morning, Bannon told a crowd of reporters and gawkers that the new prosecution against him is politically motivated.
“This is an irony, on the very day the mayor of this city has a delegation down on the border, they’re persecuting people here,” Bannon shouted over numerous hecklers jeering him.
He was referring to New York City Mayor Eric Adams having dispatched a group of officials to the southern border earlier this week to meet with Border Patrol agents. That trip was part of an ongoing feud the Democrat Adams has with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, who has sent buses filled with migrants to New York City.
One onlooker yelled at Bannon: “Stop hurting America, you greasy, two-bit grifter!”
Bannon in July was convicted in U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C., of two counts of contempt of Congress. That case stemmed from his refusal to testify before the select House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot by Trump supporters.
“We expect that case to be turned over on appeal,” Schoen said Thursday during Bannon’s arraignment in New York.
Earlier this week, Bannon told NBC News that New York authorities “decided to pursue phony charges against me 60 days before the midterm election.”
“This is nothing more than a partisan political weaponization of the criminal justice system,” he said.
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