Former Trump adviser arrested over border wall fraud scheme
Steve Bannon, a popular right-wing podcaster who once served as an adviser to former President Donald Trump, has been arrested on multiple charges linked to a crowdfunding fraud scheme, in which he allegedly swindled donors out of money intended for a private border wall.
Bannon was arrested on Thursday morning and arraigned at a Manhattan court, where he pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include two felony counts of money laundering, two felony counts of conspiracy and one count for fraud. He was later released without bail, according to multiple media reports.
An indictment unsealed before Bannon’s court appearance outlined the allegations against him, claiming he helped to defraud donors during his work with the ‘We Build the Wall’ organization, a non-profit which aimed to raise funds for the construction of a privately-owned barrier along the US-Mexico border. At the time of the alleged fraud, Bannon served as chairman of the group’s advisory board.
While the campaign ultimately pulled in around $25 million, prosecutors say Bannon funneled more than $100,000 to the group’s president, Brian Kolfage, despite his repeated vows not to accept a salary from the org. Some of the payments were arranged through third-party entities controlled by Bannon, according to the indictment.
“The simple truth is that it is a crime to profit off the backs of donors by making false pretenses,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg told reporters on Thursday after announcing the charges. “We are here to say today in one voice, in Manhattan and in New York, you will be held accountable for defrauding donors.”
Bannon previously faced similar charges in a federal indictment filed in 2020, to which he also pleaded not guilty before receiving a pardon from Trump. However, presidential pardons apply only to federal charges, meaning New York prosecutors can proceed with the fraud case announced on Thursday.
The former White House strategist and Trump campaign aide was separately charged for contempt of Congress and convicted in July after he refused to appear before lawmakers to testify about the January 6, 2021 riot at the US Capitol building.