Steve Bannon has been charged with money laundering and conspiracy in New York over his controversial fundraising campaign We Build the Wall, hours after surrendering to authorities on Thursday morning.
A former Trump strategist, Bannon is charged with two counts of money laundering in the second degree, conspiracy in the second and fourth degrees, and scheme to defraud in the first degree, according to the unsealed indictment. He pleaded not guilty.
In a press conference later that day, Attorney General Letitia James said that Bannon and others involved in the fundraiser repeatedly told donors that "not a penny" would go towards the salary of Brian Kolfage, the campaign’s president. Bannon told people associated with the campaign that such a promise would be "the most talked about media narrative ever," prosecutors said.
But the organization did in fact pay Kolfage more than $200,000 in 2019, and then hid those payments by laundering them through third-party-entities, including one that Bannon himself ran, according to prosecutors.
"Simply put, Mr. Bannon lied to ordinary citizens about this project," James said. "He diverted their hard earned money. He preyed upon the emotions of New Yorkers and Americans."
Bannon, who allegedly pocketed $1 million of the $25 million raised, is one of four people who accused of defrauding donors to the campaign. In August 2020, federal prosecutors charged Bannon, Kolfage, Andrew Badolato, and Timothy Shea with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering.
Kolfage allegedly spent the money on "home renovations, payments toward a boat, a luxury SUV, a golf cart, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, personal tax payments, and credit card debt," federal prosecutors said. Bannon, Badolato, and Shea were accused of spending on "travel, hotels, consumer goods, and personal credit card debts."
Though all four initially denied wrongdoing and claimed the federal charges were politically motivated, Kolfage and Badolato pleaded guilty this year, and Shea's trial ended with a deadlocked jury. Bannon evaded the charges thanks to a pardon from former president Trump in the final hours of his presidency.
A presidential pardon, however, applies only to federal charges. The New York investigation into Bannon's alleged criminal conduct began as early as March 2021, according to a Bloomberg report at the time.
Bannon traveled to New York on Wednesday, his attorney said. In a statement released the day before, Bannon called the state charges "phony" and again sought to paint the case as political.
"They are coming after all of us, not only President Trump and myself," he said in a statement to CNBC. "I am never going to stop fighting. In fact, I have not yet begun to fight. They will have to kill me first."
Bannon faces more legal woes than just the New York fraud case. In July, he was convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena to testify and hand over documents to the Jan. 6 committee. He will be sentenced in that case in October.