Steve Bannon pleads not guilty in online border wall scheme

20 August 2020, 14:44

Steve Bannon is the former White House chief strategist
Steve Bannon is the former White House chief strategist. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

US President Donald Trump's ex-political adviser Steve Bannon has pleaded not guilty to charges alleging he ripped off donors with an online fundraising scheme to build the border wall.

Mr Bannon was arrested on a yacht on the coast of Connecticut on Thursday and charged in connection with the fundraising scheme.

Appearing via video-link in Manhattan federal court, with his hands cuffed and a white mask covering most of his face, he denied the charges against him.

A magistrate judge has approved his release on a $5 million bail, secured with $1.75 million in assets.

He and three others were charged over their involvement in a group called “We Build the Wall,” which raised funds to build a border wall, U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a press release.

Investigators at the U.S. Southern District of New York said on Thursday said that the group of conservative leaders defrauded donors and that led to raising “more than $25 million to build a wall along the southern border of the United States."

According to the indictment, Bannon promised that 100 per cent of the money donated would be used for the project, but the defendants used hundreds of thousands of dollars in a manner inconsistent with the organisation's public representations.

In the indictment, the three were accused of using fake invoices and sham "vendor" arrangements in a bid to hide what was really happening.

Bannon used funds from the group to pay for his personal expenses, prosecutors say.

Steve Bannon was an advisor to President Trump
Steve Bannon was an advisor to President Trump. Picture: PA

The others mentioned in the indictment are Timothy Shea, who in May was announced as the Acting Administrator of Drug Enforcement Administration, Brian Kolfage, an Iraq war veteran and Andrew Badolato. 

We Build The Wall originally promoted a project for three miles of fence posts in south Texas that was ultimately built and largely funded by Fisher Industries, which has received about two billion dollars (£1.5 billion) in funding for wall contracts.

Mr Trump recently criticised that section of wall after it showed signs of erosion, saying it was "only done to make me look bad", even though it was built by his supporters.

Bannon led the conservative Breitbart News before being chosen to serve as chief executive of Mr Trump's campaign in its critical final months, when he pushed a scorched earth strategy that included highlighting the stories of former president Bill Clinton's accusers.

After the election, he served as chief strategist during the turbulent early months of Mr Trump's administration.

The blunt-spoken, combative Bannon was the voice of a nationalistic, outsider conservatism, and he pushed Mr Trump to follow through on some of his most contentious campaign promises, including his travel ban on several majority-Muslim countries.

But Bannon also clashed with other top advisers, and his high profile sometimes irked Mr Trump.

He was pushed out in August 2017.

Bannon, who served in the navy and worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs before becoming a Hollywood producer, has been hosting a pro-Trump podcast called War Room that began during the president's impeachment proceedings and has continued during the pandemic.

Bannon is expected to appear in New York courtroom Thursday.

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