Trump ally Steve Bannon pleads not guilty in donor fraud case

Bannon is indicted on money laundering and conspiracy charges related to a campaign to build a US-Mexico border wall.

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon arriving at the Manhattan district attorney's office to surrender himself to New York authorities [Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP]

Steve Bannon, a longtime ally of former US President Donald Trump, has been indicted on six criminal charges related to Trump’s effort to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.

In an indictment made public on Thursday, Bannon was charged with two counts of money laundering, three counts of conspiracy and one count of scheming to defraud.

Bannon pleaded not guilty and said the charges were “all nonsense” while leaving the courtroom. The 68-year-old was released without bail.

The new charges concern some of the same conduct of a previous, federal indictment that was dismissed when Trump pardoned Bannon on his last day in office.

Bannon and three other men had been charged by federal prosecutors in August 2020 with defrauding donors in a private $25m fundraising drive.

Known as “We Build the Wall“, the fundraiser aimed to help build Trump’s signature wall along the southern border to stop migrants from coming to the United States. Bannon had pleaded not guilty to those charges before they were dropped.

According to Thursday’s indictment, Bannon concealed how the drive’s chief executive was receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars of donor money despite promising not to take a salary.

The chief executive has been identified in court papers as Brian Kolfage, an Air Force veteran who pleaded guilty in April to federal wire fraud conspiracy and tax charges, and is awaiting sentencing.

“Stephen Bannon acted as the architect of a multi-million dollar scheme to defraud thousands of donors across the country,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement. “It is a crime to turn a profit by lying to donors.”

Trump’s presidential pardon does not affect this case, as it covers federal charges but does not prohibit state prosecutions.

Bannon had said in a statement Tuesday that Bragg “has now decided to pursue phony charges against me 60 days before the midterm election”, accusing the Democratic prosecutor of targeting him because Bannon and his radio show are popular among Trump’s Republican supporters.

“This is an irony,” Bannon said outside Bragg’s office on Thursday morning as he arrived to turn himself in. “On the very day the mayor of this city has a delegation down on the border, they’re persecuting people here [for trying to] stop them at the border.”

Bannon has championed “America First” right-wing populism, including fierce opposition to existing immigration practices, that became hallmarks of Trump’s presidency.

This latest development came less than two months after Bannon was convicted of contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from a House of Representatives committee probing the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.

He now runs the popular podcast, War Room, and has often hosted guests who denied that Trump lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden.

In 2020, federal agents pulled Bannon from a luxury yacht off the Connecticut coast and arrested him on charges he pocketed more than $1m in wall donations. Prosecutors alleged thousands of investors were tricked into thinking all of their donations would go towards the border wall project, although Bannon instead paid a salary to one campaign official and personal expenses for himself.

While the wall Bannon’s group proposed was to be built on the US southern border far away from New York City, Manhattan prosecutors have jurisdiction to pursue charges against Bannon because some donors to the effort lived in New York.

Another defendant in the case, Andrew Badolato, has pleaded guilty over the scheme, while a judge in June declared a mistrial in the case of the final defendant, Timothy Shea.

Source: News Agencies