Steve Bannon, a one-time political adviser to former President Donald Trump, has been charged by New York authorities with defrauding donors to the “We Build the Wall” fundraising campaign for a wall along the US-Mexico border.
Bannon surrendered to authorities Thursday in Manhattan.
He spoke to reporters after arriving to surrender, saying the charges were “all about 60 days before the election.”
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“That’s ironic, the same day the mayor of this city has a delegation at the border, they’re prosecuting people here trying to stop them at the border,” Bannon said, referring to an investigative delegation in New York. The city’s mayor, Eric Adams, sent to Texas after Texas Governor Greg Abbott decided to bus immigrants to New York.
The indictment charges Bannon and “We Build the Wall” itself with two counts of money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of five to 15 years in prison. There are additional felony counts of conspiracy and scheme to defraud along with a misdemeanor count of conspiracy to defraud.
The state charges, brought by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, are similar to the federal charges for which Bannon was pardoned by Trump, and allege that Bannon and “We Build the Wall” defrauded 430 Manhattan donors out of $33,600 . Across New York state, there were more than 11,000 donors who were defrauded of more than $730,000, according to the indictment.
Trump’s pardon applies only to the federal case and does not rule out state charges.
“Mr. Bannon exploited the political views of his donors to secure millions of dollars which he then embezzled. Mr. Bannon lied to his donors to enrich himself and his friend,” New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose office participated in the investigation, said in a statement.
“It is a crime to make a profit by lying to donors, and in New York you will be held accountable,” added Manhattan District Attorney Bragg. “Stephen Bannon is alleged to have acted as the architect of a multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud thousands of donors across the country — including hundreds of Manhattan residents.”
Two Florida men, an Air Force veteran and a businessman, were indicted along with Bannon in the federal case and pleaded guilty in April in connection with their roles in the alleged “We Build the Wall” scheme to defraud donors.
Brian Kolfage and Andrew Badolato were charged in the scheme with Bannon. A fourth defendant, Timothy Shea, appeared in a mistrial.
Kolfage and Badolato are not named in the state indictment, but are listed as co-conspirators 1 and 2, a sign that they could help Manhattan prosecutors build their case against Bannon.
The quartet allegedly used some of the $25 million raised through “We Build the Wall” for personal expenses, including a luxury SUV, a golf cart and cosmetic surgery, the federal indictment said.
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“The defendants defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors by exploiting their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars under the false pretense that all of that money would be spent on construction,” said then-U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss. charges announced in 2020.
“My only intention was to collect funds and donate them to the federal government,” Kolfage told the judge in the federal case.
“And you promised that 100% of the money would be used to build this wall? Is that so?” Judge Analisa Torres asked.
“Yes, your honor,” replied Kolfage.
“After you kept this large amount of money for yourself, you didn’t tell the IRS that you received the money. Is that right?” Torres asked.
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“Yes, your honor,” replied Kolfage.
Bannon’s surrender on Thursday makes him the third defendant pardoned by Trump who will then face charges from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
Paul Manafort, onetime Trump campaign chairman, was accused of running a two-year scheme to obtain more than $19 million in mortgage loans based on fraudulent statements to various banks. The New York Court of Appeals ultimately dismissed the case, deeming it too similar to Manafort’s federal conviction and therefore double jeopardy.
In the state case against Bannon, double jeopardy is not expected to apply because a jury was never convened to weigh federal fraud charges related to “We Build the Wall.”
Ken Kurson, former editor of the New York Observer, associate of Jared Kushner and spokesman for Rudy Giuliani, was pardoned by Trump in a federal cyberstalking case. Kurson eventually pleaded guilty to two state-level misdemeanor counts of spying on his ex-wife’s computer.
Courson will be back in court next week so the judge can make sure he complies with his community work.
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Trump pardoned Courson in his final moments in office, but then-Manhattan District Attorney Si Vance announced an indictment seven months later charging Courson with wiretapping and computer hacking.
Kurson secretly installed spyware on his ex-wife’s computer from his Observer work computer in 2015, according to the indictment.
“We will not accept presidential pardons as get-out-of-jail-free cards for the well-connected in New York,” Vance said in a statement when the charges against Courson were announced in 2021.
Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon accused of defrauding border wall donors appeared first on abcnews.go.com