Former White House’s chief strategist Steve Bannon has been arrested and charged with fraud over a fundraising campaign to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.
Steve Bannon and three others defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors in connection with the “We Build the Wall” campaign, which raised $25 million, the DoJ said.
He received more than $1 million, at least some of which he used to cover personal expenses, it alleged.
Steve Bannon, 66, is due to appear in court later.
He was a key architect of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election victory. His right-wing anti-immigration ideology fuelled Donald Trump’s “America First” campaign.
Steve Bannon was reportedly arrested on a 150-foot yacht in Connecticut by agents from the US Postal Inspection Service, which investigates fraud cases.
Responding to Steve Bannon’s arrest, President Trump said he felt “very badly” about it. He also said he had had no involvement with “We Build the Wall”.
“I said, ‘This is for government; this isn’t for private people’ – and it sounded to me like showboating and I think I let my opinion be very strongly stated at the time,” the president said.
The “We Build the Wall” campaign pledged to use donations to build segments of the border barrier – whose construction was a key Trump promise during the 2016 election – on private land.
However, Audrey Strauss, the acting Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), said Steve Bannon, Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea had “defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalizing on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretence that all of that money would be spent on construction”.
Steve Bannon had received more than $1 million through a non-profit organization he controlled, at least some of which he used to cover “hundreds of thousands of dollars in his personal expenses”, the DoJ said.
Meanwhile, Brian Kolfage – founder of “We Build the Wall” – covertly took $350,000 for his personal use, the statement said.
“While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, would not be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle,” Audrey Strauss said.
SDNY Inspector-in-Charge Philip R. Bartlett said the four created “sham invoices and accounts to launder donations and cover up their crimes, showing no regard for the law or the truth”.
“This case should serve as a warning to other fraudsters that no one is above the law, not even a disabled war veteran or a millionaire political strategist,” he said.
Steve Bannon and the three others launched the scheme in December 2018, the DoJ said, and during the campaign Brian Kolfage said that all of the money donated would go towards construction while Bannon publicly said: “We’re a volunteer organization.”
All four defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Steve Bannon will appear in court in the SDNY. Brian Kolfage and Andrew Badolato will appear in separate courts in Florida and Timothy Shea will appear in Colorado.
Steve Bannon is the sixth former senior aide to Donald Trump to face criminal charges – after ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, veteran political operator Roger Stone, ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, ex-deputy campaign manager Rick Gates and ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.