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Steve Bannon and ‘We Build the Wall’ Both Charged with Money Laundering, Conspiracy and Scheming to Defraud Trump Supporters

Steve Bannon and WBTW

Steve Bannon, former advisor to former President Donald Trump arrives at the NY District Attorney’s office to turn himself in on Sept. 8, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s ex-chief strategist Steve Bannon surrendered to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office on Thursday to face an indictment on allegations that he defrauded donors of the We Build the Wall, a border-wall charity that also faces criminal charges.

The indictment, reported on Wednesday and unsealed for the first time on Thursday, contains similar allegations to the federal case that Bannon dodged through Trump’s pardon — with key differences. Federal authorities did not pursue charges against the non-profit group, even though two of its executives now stand convicted of conspiring to commit wire fraud.

Spanning 22 pages, the indictment’s charges include money laundering, conspiracy and scheme to defraud. The 501(c)4 nonprofit is charged under its corporate name WeBuildTheWall, Inc.

As for Bannon’s case, the doctrine of separate sovereigns allows state prosecutors to pick up a case similar to one brought by federal authorities. The federal indictment alleged that Trump’s former chief strategist pocketed $1 million of the $25 million in donor money raised, despite promises that every dime would go toward construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall. The state charges do not specify the amount of the money that allegedly went to Bannon.

Bannon surrendered on Thursday morning in lower Manhattan.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) and New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) will a joint press conference on the charges at 1 p.m. Eastern Time. The two top prosecutors also joined forces during the prosecution of former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty last month.

Both released statements in advance of their press conference and Bannon’s 2:15 p.m. arraignment.

“It is a crime to turn a profit by lying to donors, and in New York, you will be held accountable,” Bragg said. “As alleged, Stephen Bannon acted as the architect of a multi-million dollar scheme to defraud thousands of donors across the country – including hundreds of Manhattan residents. Each and every day, my office works to ensure that when New Yorkers hand over money, they know where it’s going and who it’s going to – without any smokescreens or false promises.”

James, who primarily handles civil matters, said in a statement that 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,” James said. “We will continue to take on fraudulent behavior in every corner of society, including white collar criminals, because no one is above the law.”

Though Trump pardoned Bannon of federal crimes, the former president didn’t extend the same courtesy to his co-defendants: Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato, and Timothy Shea. Two of the men, Kolfage and Badolato, admitted to conspiring to defraud the donors. Shea fought the charges at trial — and 11 jurors stood primed to convict him until deliberations were hung by a lone holdout.

The indictment disguises Kolfage’s name as “Unindicted Co-Conspirator 1.”

“The object of the conspiracy was to obscure the fact that, contrary to WeBuildTheWall, Inc.’s representations about its President and CEO (‘Unindicted Co-Conspirator 1’) not taking a salary, Unindicted Co-Conspirator 1 was in fact receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation from WeBuildTheWall, Inc., a 501(c)(4) non-profit,” the indictment states. “During the period of the conspiracy, WeBuildTheWall, Inc., through Bannon, Unindicted Co-Conspirator 1, and others, engaged in a Scheme to Defraud in that it solicited donations through a crowdfunding website known to the Grand Jury (‘the Crowdfunding Website’) and did in fact raise money from donors throughout the United States, including several hundred from New York County, based on false representations regarding Unindicated Co-Conspirator 1’s compensation.”

Like its federal counterpart, the state charges are a speaking indictment, filled with the internal communications of We Build the Wall’s leaders. One of them sent a message to Bannon on Jan. 11, 2019, refers to the promise that every dime goes to charity as “remov[ing] all self-interest taint” and gives Kolfage “saint hood,” according to the indictment.

Other passages quote Bannon directly. On Feb. 12, 2019, Bannon allegedly told a media outlet: “I did this [work on behalf of We Build the Wall] kind of as a volunteer.”

Months later, Bannon is quoted saying at a fundraising event: “remember, all the money you give goes to building the wall.”

Read the indictment, below:


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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."