Steve Bannon, the onetime top advisor to former US President Donald Trump, has pleaded not guilty to numerous new charges levied against him by officials.
Bannon, 68, turned himself in to law enforcement authorities at Manhattan Criminal Court for arraignment on Thursday.
The arraignment comes more than two years after Bannon was arrested on federal charges that he and three other men defrauded donors who gave $25 million or more to fund the We Build the Wall campaign. That campaign supported the intention of then-President Trump to build a wall along the southern border of the United States.
Bannon, who had been pardoned of previous charges by Trump on his last night as president before leaving office in January 2021, has been criminally charged by the New York prosecutors with a scheme to fraudulently funnel and obscure salary payments to the CEO of a non-profit fundraising effort to build a wall on the US border with Mexico.
Bannon, who has pleaded not guilty to the border wall scam charges, was ordered to surrender his passports to authorities.
However, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg Jr. described him “as the architect of a multi-million dollar scheme to defraud thousands of donors across the country, including hundreds of Manhattan residents.”
Bragg said that Bannon, “We Build the Wall” Chief Executive Officer Brian Kolfage and others involved in that campaign had repeatedly claimed that Kolfage would not be paid “a penny” for his work.
“But instead of pennies, [Kolfage had] received more than $250,000 in a salary fund by donations,” Bragg pointed out.
“At least $140,000 of which, we allege, was laundered by Stephen Bannon,” said Bragg, who spoke several hours after Bannon surrendered at Manhattan Criminal Court to face a grand jury indictment, which also charged WeBuildtheWall Inc.
The district attorney said that Bannon throughout 2019 directed the We Build the Wall campaign to pay a non-profit that Bannon controlled “tens of thousands of dollars at a time.”
“Bannon’s not-for-profit then paid a salary to [Kolfage], thereby obscuring the source of the funds, in direct contradiction to the many promises made by Bannon, We Build the Wall, and other associates in this scheme,” Bragg said.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose office participated in the investigation, said, “There cannot be one set of rules for everyday people and another for the wealthy and powerful – we all must play by the same rules and must obey the law.”
“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.”
Bannon faces between five to 15 years in prison if found guilty of the charges, including money laundering.
The self-proclaimed right-wing ideologue claimed the charges brought against him ahead of the decisive US mid-term elections were politically-motivated.
Earlier this week, Bannon told NBC News that New York authorities “decided to pursue phony charges against me 60 days before the midterm election.”
“This is nothing more than a partisan political weaponization of the criminal justice system,” he said.
Bannon, who co-founded Breitbart News -- a far-right website which he described in 2016 as "the platform for the alt-right"-- claims to be an influential figure among Trump supporters and his conviction might have a negative impact on the vote of Trump loyalists.