NEW YORK — Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon turned himself in at the Manhattan district attorney’s office Thursday to face money laundering and fraud charges in connection with the “We Build the Wall” fund-raising scam.
The rabble-rousing right-wing political strategist previously faced federal charges for the crowdfunding scheme, for which former President Donald Trump pardoned him during a clemency blitz in his final hours in office. The pardon did not spare Bannon from state prosecution.
Bannon had a smirk on his face as court officers walked him into Judge Juan Merchan’s packed 15th-floor courtroom in handcuffs shortly after 2 p.m. He pleaded not guilty to two counts of money laundering, three counts of conspiracy and one count of scheme to defraud. A representative of We Build the Wall Inc., entered a not guilty plea on the company’s behalf.
Bannon’s fund-raising scheme lasted from January through December 2019, District Attorney Alvin Bragg said.
“It is a crime to turn a profit by lying to donors, and in New York, you will be held accountable,” Bragg said.
“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. Each and every day, my office works to ensure that when New Yorkers hand over money, they know where it’s going and who it’s going to – without any smokescreens or false promises.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose office aided the DA’s Bannon investigation, said the case included political power players operating under their own set of rules.
“They think they are above the law, and the most egregious of them take advantage of hardworking Americans in the process. Steve Bannon stands out as a perfect example of this blatant inequality,” James said.
“He gained power and influence as a top adviser to the former president, and he used that influence and those connections to cheat everyday Americans and carry out this fraud.”
Bannon accused New York authorities of charging him for political reasons ahead of the midterm elections.
“We are going to win a sweeping landslide at every level — from school boards to election officials to state legislators to the House of Representatives and to the Senate. We are not going to back down, OK, we are not gonna back down. And they will not be able to shut me up,” Bannon said before leaving court in a black SUV with his lawyers.
Brian Kolfage and Andrew Badolato, two of four men charged in the August 2020 federal case with Bannon — whom Trump did not pardon — pleaded guilty to the scheme in April. The fourth man, Colorado businessman Timothy Shea, saw his case end in a mistrial in June after a holdout juror alleged a government “witch hunt.” Shea is set to go back on trial next month.
The fund-raiser launched in late 2018 sought to elicit donations from Trump supporters to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. It promised 100% of funds would go toward its construction and raised almost $17 million in its first week, according to federal court records.
Air Force veteran and triple amputee Kolfage, who was the fund’s president and poster boy, said in a 2019 interview that he “would have to be the stupidest person in the world” to mismanage the donations “with everyone watching me.”
All the while, prosecutors say, Bannon and others secretly funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, who is referred to in the charging documents as “Unindicted Co-Conspirator 1.” That included a $250,000 transfer in February 2019, according to the indictment.
Bannon faces up to 15 years if convicted on the top count. The fund faces steep financial penalties.
In July, Bannon was found guilty of contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the special House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. He faces up to two years in federal prison when sentenced next month.