Wednesday, December 7, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Steve Bannon hit with state charges in NY for wall-building fundraiser fraud

The conservative media strategist surrendered himself on Thursday morning to Manhattan prosecutors who filed a six-count indictment that echoes the federal charges for which he was pardoned by President Donald Trump last year.

MANHATTAN (CN) — A state prosecutor charged former Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon on Thursday with six criminal counts related to a fraudulent fundraiser called We Build the Wall.

Having surrendered himself at the Manhattan district attorney’s office shortly after 9 a.m., flanked by a team of bodyguards, Bannon entered his 2:15 p.m. arraignment with his hands cuffed behind his back and a smirk on his face. 

“This is what happens in the last days of a dying regime," he barked on his way into the courtroom where Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan is presiding. "They’ll never shut me up. They’ll have to kill me first. I’ve not yet begun to fight”

Bannon entered a plea of not guilty through his Alabama-based attorney David Schoen. After agreeing to surrender his passport, the 68-year-old former Breitbart News executive chairman was released on his own recognizance.

“It’s all nonsense. They will never shut me up,” Bannon told reporters as he left court uncuffed.

Judge Merchan is also overseeing the Manhattan DA's case against the Trump Organization, in which longtime Trump finance chief Allen Weisselberg recently pleaded guilty to all counts and agreed to testify at trial for prosecutors.

The 22-page indictment against Bannon in Manhattan Supreme Court says he defrauded donors who contributed to a nonprofit that promised it would build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, using private donations to fulfill a long-running promise of former President Donald Trump.

Bannon and several of his partners were indicted in 2020 related to the We Build the Wall fraud, but Trump ultimately pardoned Bannon on his last day of office, shielding his longtime ally but none of Bannon's co-defendants from a federal trial. Presidential pardons apply only to federal crimes, not state offenses.

While Bannon might fight his state indictment on the basis of double jeopardy, such an argument is unlikely to land because his federal case in the Southern District of New York did not involve an acquittal or conviction.

The state indictment charges Bannon with two felony counts of money laundering, two counts of conspiracy and a felony count of scheming to defraud. If convicted, Bannon faces a maximum sentence between five to 15 years. We Build the Wall Inc., the company, is also charged in the indictment.

“It is a crime to turn a profit by lying to donors, and in New York, you will be held accountable,” District Attorney Bragg said on Thursday morning. “As alleged, Stephen Bannon acted as the architect of a multimillion dollar scheme to defraud thousands of donors across the country — including hundreds of Manhattan residents.”

Bragg was joined by New York Attorney General Letitia James at a press conference Thursday afternoon, formally announcing the charges against Bannon as a joint effort between their two offices.

“There cannot be one set of rules for everyday Americans and another for the wealthy and powerful — we all must play by the same rules and must obey the law,” James said. “Mr. Bannon took advantage of his donors’ political views to secure millions of dollars, which he then misappropriated. Mr. Bannon lied to his donors to enrich himself and his friends."

Like the federal We Build The Wall case that named Bannon as a co-defendant, the Manhattan indictment charges Bannon with misrepresenting to donors that the group’s co-founders would not take “a single penny” in compensation from funds raised.

From the fundraiser’s inception, We Build the Wall promised that 100% of funds raised would go toward construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. It quickly raised some $25 million in private donations on GoFundMe but built a mere 3 miles of fencing. The rest, according to charging papers, lined its founder’s pockets. Prosecutors said Bannon and U.S. Air Force Iraq War veteran Brain Kolfage alone used more than $1 million in We Build the Wall donations to pay for a boat, a 2018 Land Rover Range Rover, a golf cart, jewelry, cosmetic surgery and other assets.

Kolfage and another co-defendant, Florida venture capitalist Andrew Badolato, both pleaded guilty in April. They had been scheduled to be sentenced this week, but the hearing was recently postponed to December.

A third defendant’s trial ended in a mistrial in June after deadlocked jurors said they could not reach a unanimous verdict against Colorado businessman Tim Shea.

Late Tuesday evening, Bannon released a statement asserting that Bragg “has now decided to pursue phony charges against me 60 days before the midterm election." Bannon claimed that the Black, first-term Democratic prosecutor targeted him because Bannon and his radio show are popular among Trump’s Republican supporters.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.

Loading
Loading...