Ex-Trump advisor charged with money laundering in border wall scheme
Former US President Donald Trump's longtime ally and top strategist, Steve Bannon, has been charged with money laundering.
Former US President Donald Trump's longtime ally and one-time top strategist, Steve Bannon, has been charged with money laundering and conspiracy for allegedly deceiving donors into an effort to help Trump build a wall along the US-Mexico border.
Bannon, 68, was charged with two counts of money laundering, three counts of conspiracy, and one count of scheming to defraud in an indictment made public on Thursday.
The case arose from what prosecutors have described as a private $25 million fundraising drive, known as "We Build the Wall," for the former Republican President's signature wall.
According to the indictment, Bannon promised donors that all of their money would go toward the wall while concealing his role in diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars to the drive's chief executive, who had promised not to take a salary.
In court documents, the chief executive is identified as Brian Kolfage, an Air Force veteran who pleaded guilty in April to federal wire fraud conspiracy and tax charges and is awaiting sentencing.
The indictment issued on Thursday concerns some of the conduct that led to Bannon's federal prosecution in August 2020, which also claimed he diverted nearly $1 million for personal expenses.
Bannon pleaded not guilty in that case, which ended when Trump pardoned him in the final hours of his presidency in January 2021. State prosecutions are not barred by presidential pardons.
"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, and in New York, you will be held accountable."
On the investigation, the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James collaborated with Bragg's office. Democrats James and Bragg have also been investigating Trump and his businesses.
"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 said outside Bragg's office, alluding to a recent trip by city officials to Texas.
"This is all about 60 days," Bannon added, apparently referring to the November elections.
Bannon is scheduled to be arraigned in New York criminal court in Manhattan at 2:15 pm EDT (1815 GMT). David Schoen, his lawyer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Probes tied to Trump
The indictment on Thursday includes several communications from 2019 involving Bannon, Kolfage, and Andrew Badolato, who also pleaded guilty in the federal case in April.
Bannon was chairing the advisory board of Kolfage's WeBuildTheWall Inc at the time, which was charged with the same six counts on Thursday.
The indictment said Bannon texted in January 2019 that there would be "no deals I don't approve, and I pay [Kolfage] so what's to worry."
His message was different five months later, according to the indictment, when he told prospective donors at a fundraiser, "Remember, all the money you give goes to building the wall."
Kolfage and Badolato's attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Timothy Shea, a fourth defendant in the federal case, went to trial, which ended in a mistrial.
The state probe of Bannon began under Bragg's predecessor Cyrus Vance.
Bragg also took over Vance's investigation into Trump's namesake company, the Trump Organization, which was charged with tax evasion in July 2021, along with longtime Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg. Weisselberg pleaded guilty in August, and the Trump Organization faces a scheduled October trial.
Bannon is not the first former Trump ally charged in federal and state court.
Vance filed fraud charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in March 2019, which were similar to the federal charges on which Manafort had been convicted and sentenced to 7.5 years in prison.
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However, a New York judge dismissed the state charges nine months later because they amounted to double jeopardy. Trump pardoned Manafort in December 2020. Because Bannon was never tried on federal charges, double jeopardy may not have applied.
He promotes "America First" right-wing populism, including vehement opposition to current immigration policies, which have become hallmarks of Trump's presidency.
Bannon now hosts the popular podcast "War Room", which frequently features guests who deny Trump lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden.