Officials said Stephen Bannon was the “architect” of a scheme to defraud donors who gave money to build a wall on the United States-Mexico border.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) said at a press conference on Thursday that Bannon and the organization We Build the Wall Inc. were indicted for a yearlong fundraising scheme that took in more than $15 million from thousands of people across the country based on false pretenses.
He said Bannon and other leaders of the group promised that all donations to the organization would go toward building a wall on the country’s southern border and “not a penny” would go to paying the salary of the group’s president, Brian Kolfage.
Bragg said the group’s fundraisers repeatedly used the phrase “not a penny” in soliciting donations through media appearances, emails and social media posts.
But he said Kolfage received a salary of more than $250,000 that was funded by donations, and at least $140,000 of it was laundered by Bannon. Prosecutors also allege that Bannon used some funds to pay for personal expenses.
Bragg said Bannon directed 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, prosecutors allege.
Bragg said prosecutors in New York began investigating Bannon, former President Trump’s onetime chief strategist, after he received a pardon from Trump in January 2021 for federal charges he faced in relation to the fundraising scheme.
“We then began investigating and determined that Mr. Bannon must be held accountable in this jurisdiction, the jurisdiction of New York State, for his conduct as the architect of this scheme, which impacted hundreds of Manhattan residents,” he said.
Bragg said Bannon and We Build the Wall are facing 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 has slammed the investigation as politically motivated, saying that “this is all about 60 days from the day,” referencing the upcoming November midterm elections. 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 will 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 press conference that the indictment is a result of joint efforts between her office and Bragg’s.
“Today is an important day for justice, our justice system and our continued efforts to uphold the law,” she said. “Regular everyday Americans play by these rules, and yet too often, the powerful, political interest, they ignore these rules. They think that they are above the law.”
James said Bannon was the “architect” of Trump’s plan to build a wall on the southern border, so he stole millions of dollars when he undertook a plan to fund the wall.
“And the most egregious of them take advantage of hardworking Americans in the process, and Steve Bannon stands out as a perfect example of this blatant inequality,” she added.