Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon arrived in court in New York on Thursday to face new charges related to a charity that was supposed to use private funds to build the US-Mexico border wall.
Bannon, 68, was charged with money laundering, fraud and conspiracy, according to an unsealed court filing Thursday morning.
The six-count indictment also names the group WeBuildTheWall.Inc, which it says worked with Bannon on the project in 2019. prosecutors, duped thousands of donors by claiming that all the money raised would go to building a wall along the southern border and not to the people leading the effort.
The group’s chairman, Brian Kolfage, who is not named in the indictment, pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars from the scheme, according to the filing. Some of the money was funneled to him by Bannon, who had the campaign money transferred to a nonprofit group under Bannon’s control, then used that money to pay Kolfage $140,000, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors allege that Bannon was well aware that the group publicized Kolfage telling donors “I don’t take any salary dollars, no compensation,” and that Bannon himself echoed those claims.
In a statement, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said Bannon “acted as the architect of a multi-million dollar scheme to defraud thousands of donors across the country, including hundreds of ‘Manhattan people’.
“It’s a crime to profit by lying to donors, and in New York you will be held accountable,” Bragg said.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose office has partnered with the district attorney in the investigation, said Bannon “took advantage of the political views of his donors to get millions of dollars which he then misappropriated” and “lied to his donors to enrich himself and his friends.”
Bannon was due to be arraigned Thursday afternoon.
In a statement to NBC News on Tuesday, Bannon said, “This is nothing more than partisan political weaponization of the criminal justice system.”
NBC News reported in February 2021 that the district attorney’s office had opened an investigation into Bannon’s involvement in the alleged scam a month after Trump pardoned him. Presidential pardons only apply to federal cases, meaning New York is not barred from pursuing similar charges.
The federal case alleged that Bannon was one of four people who “orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors” on part of the more than $25 million raised through an online crowdfunding campaign to help fulfill Trump’s pledge to build a border wall. Federal authorities said Bannon used his nonprofit organization to receive more than $1 million in funds to build the walls.
Two of Bannon’s co-defendants in the federal case, Kolfage and Andrew Badolato, pleaded guilty in April and are to be condemned in December. The trial of the third co-defendant, Timothy Shea, ended in a annulment of the trial in June, when the jury deadlocked and could not reach a verdict. Shea is expected to be retried in October.
Bannon is also awaiting sentencing after being sentenced of misdemeanor contempt of Congress for snubbing subpoenas from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. He faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The Bannon case is not the first brought by the New York prosecutor’s office involving the former president’s allies.
Last June, the office accused the Trump Organization and its then-chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, of tax evasion and other charges in what they described as a sweeping 15-year program to compensate top executives “off the books” and to help them avoid paying taxes.
Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty in last month’s case, is expected to testify against the company when the case goes to trial in October.
The company pleaded not guilty and Trump was not charged in the case. He, however, insisted the investigation was part of a political “witch hunt” against him and accused Bragg, who is black, of being a “racist“to pursue the matter.
The case was originally brought by Bragg’s predecessor, Cyrus Vance.
Vance also filed a criminal lawsuit in 2019 against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort for allegedly falsifying business documents to obtain millions of dollars in residential mortgages. The case was later fired on dual criminality grounds as he had previously been tried and convicted for related crimes uncovered by former special counsel Robert Mueller.
Manafort’s case probably won’t help Bannon. The state pass a law end of 2019 that allows its prosecutors to pursue investigations into any recipient of a presidential pardon who has served in the administration of a president, worked directly or indirectly to advance a presidential campaign or transition, or worked in an organization nonprofit or company controlled by a president, and whose alleged criminal activities took place in New York.