Officials said Stephen Bannon was the ‘architect’ of a scheme to defraud donors who donated money to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) told a news conference Thursday that Bannon and the We Build the Wall Inc. organization have been charged over a year-long fundraising scheme that raked in over $15 million from thousands of people across the country based on false pretences.
He said Bannon and other leaders of the group had promised that all donations to the organization would go towards building a wall on the country’s southern border and that “not a penny” would be used to pay the salary of the group president, Brian Kolfage.
Bragg said the group’s fundraisers have repeatedly used the phrase “not a penny” to solicit donations through media appearances, emails and social media posts.
But he said Kolfage received a salary of more than $250,000 funded by donations, and at least $140,000 was laundered by Bannon. Prosecutors also allege Bannon used funds to pay for personal expenses.
Bragg said Bannon ordered We Build the Wall to transfer tens of thousands of dollars at a time to a nonprofit company throughout 2019. The company then paid Kolfage’s salary, which obscured the source of the funds, according to prosecutors.
Bragg said New York prosecutors began investigating Bannon, former President Trump’s former chief strategist, after receiving a pardon from Trump in January 2021 for the federal charges he faced in connection with the fundraising program.
“We then began to investigate and determined that Mr. Bannon should be held liable in this jurisdiction, the jurisdiction of the State of New York, for his conduct as the architect of this scheme, which affected hundreds of Manhattanites,” he said.
Bragg said Bannon and We Build the Wall face two counts of second degree money laundering, two counts of fourth degree conspiracy, one count of first degree scheme to defraud and one count of fifth degree conspiracy.
Bannon called the investigation politically motivated, saying “this is all about 60 days away”, referring to the upcoming midterm elections in November. He said prosecutors did the “same thing” to him in August 2020 when he faced federal charges shortly before the 2020 presidential election.
Bragg said Bannon would be arraigned Thursday afternoon.
Two other men, including Kolfage, pleaded guilty to charges related to the We Build the Wall project in April. A third defendant had a mistrial.
New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) said at the news conference that the indictment was the result of a joint effort between her office and Bragg’s.
“Today is an important day for justice, our justice system and our continued law enforcement efforts,” she said. “Everyday Americans follow these rules, and yet too often powerful political interests ignore these rules. They think they are above the law.
James said Bannon was the “architect” of Trump’s plan to build a southern border wall, so he stole millions of dollars when he undertook a plan to fund the wall.
“And the most egregious of them are taking advantage of hard-working Americans in the process, and Steve Bannon stands out as a perfect example of this glaring inequality,” she added.