Former Trump right hand Steve Bannon stood in front of a New York City judge on Thursday to be arraigned on charges including money laundering, conspiracy and fraud for allegedly ripping off thousands of people who donated to a campaign to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“After an investigation by my office and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Steve Bannon has been indicted for stealing more than $15 million from thousands of Americans for his sham effort to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico,” New York Attorney General Letitia James tweeted on Thursday. “No matter how powerful you are, no one is above the law.”
Bannon, the former chief executive officer of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign team and an administration advisor, pleaded not guilty. He was released without bail and is due back in court on October 4.
The Associated Press reports that as he left the courthouse, Bannon said, “It’s all nonsense. They will never shut me up.”
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, however, believes it’s a very serious matter that Bannon and WeBuildTheWall, Inc.—the nonprofit entity that Bannon and his former co-defendants used to solicit donations—defrauded 430 Manhattan-based donors out of $33,600. ABC News reports that the indictment states there were more than 11,000 donors defrauded out of more than $730,000 across New York state, as well.
The indictment resembles previous federal charges brought against Bannon, who was arrested in August 2020 but ultimately pardoned by President Trump in January 2021. That pardon, however, does not protect Bannon from state charges.
“It is a crime to turn a profit by lying to donors, and in New York, you will be held accountable,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg at a news conference Thursday. “As alleged, Stephen Bannon acted as the architect of a multi-million dollar scheme to defraud thousands of donors across the country—including hundreds of Manhattan residents.”
Bannon and the We Build the Wall organization were indicted on six charges, including two counts of money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of five to 15 years in prison, as well as felony counts of conspiracy and scheme to defraud, plus one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to defraud. Bannon and the organization pleaded not guilty.
Brian Kolfage, the co-founder of We Build the Wall, pleaded guilty with codefendant Andrew Badolato last April for playing a part in the scheme. “I knew what I was doing was wrong and a crime,” Kolfage told a judge.
The Associated Press reported that the New York indictment of Bannon cited Kolfage repeatedly pledging, “I won’t take a penny from these donations, not a penny.” Bannon, too, told donors at a June 2019 fundraising event that “all the money you give goes to building the wall.”
Investigators found, however, that Bannon pocketed $1 million from the donations, and secretly paid Kolfage, an Air Force veteran, $250,000 to serve as president of the organization. Kolfage and Badolato were not named in the New York indictment, but are referenced as co-conspirators 1 and 2.
A fourth player in the alleged scheme, Colorado businessman Timothy Shea, stood trial alone for similar charges earlier this year after Trump pardoned Bannon and the other two codefendants accepted plea deals.
Law and Crime reported that prosecutors argued Shea funneled a $20,000 monthly salary to Kolfage through an anonymous LLC in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars. A mistrial was declared when the jury wasn’t able to deliver a verdict, and another trial for Shea is expected this fall.
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