What to Know
- Federal agents pulled Bannon from a luxury yacht off the Connecticut coast and arrested him on charges he pocketed more than $1 million in wall donations
- Prosecutors alleged thousands of investors were tricked into thinking all of their donations would go toward the border wall project, although Bannon instead paid a salary to one campaign official and personal expenses
- While the wall Bannon’s group proposed was to be built on the U.S. southern border, more than 1,000 miles from the Big Apple, Manhattan prosecutors have jurisdiction to pursue charges against Bannon because some donors to the effort lived in New York
Former President Donald Trump’s longtime ally Steve Bannon pleaded not guilty Thursday to duping donors who gave money to build a wall on the U.S. southern border — a state-level reboot of a federal case that ended with a presidential pardon last year.
Bannon, 68, was released without bail after his arraignment on charges including money laundering, conspiracy and fraud related to the “We Build the Wall” campaign. He is the second person pardoned by Trump and later charged by the Manhattan district attorney's office for the same alleged conduct.
Manhattan prosecutors say that while Bannon promised all donations would go to building the wall, he was involved in transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars to third-party entities and used them to funneled payments to two other people involved in the scheme.
The indictment didn't identify those people by name, but the details match those of Brian Kolfage and Andrew Badolato, who pleaded guilty to federal charges in April.
“It is a crime to turn a profit by lying to donors, and in New York, you will be held accountable,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement.
Bannon’s New York charges stem from the same alleged conduct as an attempted federal prosecution that ended abruptly, before trial, when Trump pardoned Bannon on his last day in office. Manhattan prosecutors also charged WeBuildTheWall, Inc., a nonprofit entity that Bannon and others allegedly used to solicit donations.
Manhattan prosecutors also charged WeBuildTheWall, Inc., the nonprofit entity that Bannon and his former co-defendants used to solicit donations.
Presidential pardons apply only to federal crimes, not state offenses. Last year, the Manhattan district attorney's office charged Ken Kurson, a friend of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, with cyberstalking months after Trump pardoned him in a similar federal case.
Like Bannon, Kurson was pardoned early in his federal case, before acquittal or conviction, negating any double jeopardy argument.
Arriving at the Manhattan district attorney's office shortly after 9 a.m. Thursday, Bannon said it was “an irony” that New York City's mayor has been objecting to busloads of migrants sent to the city from Texas while prosecutors “are persecuting people here, that try to stop them at the border.”
Earlier, Bannon accused Bragg of pursuing “phony charges” against him, saying the Democratic prosecutor targeted him ahead of November’s midterm elections because he and his radio show are popular among Trump’s Republican supporters.
Bannon, in a statement Tuesday, said federal prosecutors “did the exact same thing in August 2020 to try to take me out of the election,” referring to his arrest months before Trump’s reelection loss. “This is nothing more than a partisan political weaponization of the criminal justice system.”
Bragg and New York Attorney General Letitia James planned a 1 p.m. news conference to discuss the charges against Bannon.
In 2020, federal agents pulled Bannon from a luxury yacht off the Connecticut coast and arrested him on charges he pocketed more than $1 million in donations to the wall-building effort. In all, more than $25 million was raised, prosecutors said.
In that case, federal prosecutors alleged Bannon and his co-defendants capitalized on public fervor over border security — a pillar of Trump’s presidential campaign — and tricked thousands of people into thinking 100% of their donations would go to building a wall along the 1,933-mile (3,110-kilometer) U.S.-Mexico line.
Instead, according to federal prosecutors, Bannon used some of the money to pay personal expenses for himself and a secret salary to Kolfage, a “We Build the Wall” co-founder.
“All the money you give goes to building the wall,” Bannon told donors at a June 2019 fundraising event, according to the New York indictment unsealed Thursday. Kolfage, who is not charged in the state case, repeatedly pledged: “I won’t take a penny from these donations, not a penny,” the indictment said.
Hundreds of Manhattan residents donated to “We Build the Wall,” prosecutors said.
Bannon, who had pleaded not guilty to the federal charges, was dropped from the federal case when Trump pardoned him.
Kolfage, a U.S. Air Force veteran who lost both legs in a mortar attack in Iraq, and Badolato, a Florida financier, had been scheduled to be sentenced this week, but that was recently postponed to December. A third defendant’s trial ended in a mistrial in June after jurors said they could not reach a unanimous verdict.
In another case not covered by Trump’s pardon, Bannon was convicted in July on contempt charges for defying a congressional subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. He is scheduled to be sentenced in October and faces up to two years in federal prison.