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Steve Bannon, former adviser to President Trump, charged with fraud over Mexico wall fundraiser

Bannon was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in relation to a fundraising campaign to support the building of Trump's promised U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Steve Bannon, former adviser to President Trump, charged with fraud over Mexico wall fundraiser
Alessandro Bianchi REUTERS

Steve Bannon, a former senior adviser to President Donald Trump, has been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in relation to a fundraising campaign to support the building of Trump's promised US-Mexico border wall, the US Justice Department said today, Thursday.

Bannon was arrested by agents from the US Postal Service on a boat off the Eastern coast of Connecticut, and will appear in court later today. According to MSNBC, citing an unnamed source, Bannon intends to plead not guilty.

Bannon charged over "We Build the Wall" campaign

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced that Bannon was charged in an unsealed indictment along with several others including Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea for allegedly defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors through a $25 million crowdfunding campaign called "We Build the Wall." They face up to 40 years in prison for the alleged fraud.

The donors thought all the money would go toward helping to build a border wall, prosecutors said, with the fund raiser promising the organisers would not receive any of the monies. But Kolfage, whom they described as the public face and founder of the operation, received thousands of dollars that he used to fund a lavish lifestyle.

Bannon, a prominent figure on the American political right, served as a campaign and White House adviser to Trump, who made the construction of a border wall a key campaign promise in 2016.

Kolfage is due to appear in federal court later on Thursday in Florida, while Bannon is set to appear in federal court in Manhattan. The other two defendants are due to appear in courts in the Middle District of Florida and Colorado.

Statement from Acting Manhattan US Attorney

"As alleged, the defendants defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalizing on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretense that all of that money would be spent on construction," Acting Manhattan US Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement.

"While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, would not be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle."

President Trump "sad" at Bannon's arrest

President Donald Trump said on Thursday he feels "very badly" about the arrest of his former close adviser Steve Bannon but knows nothing about the fundraising organization involved in the federal criminal case.

"I do think it's a sad event," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. "I haven't dealt with him at all now for years, literally years."

"I know nothing about the project other than I didn't like, when I read about it, I didn't like it. I said, 'This is for government, this isn't for private people,' and it sounded to me like showboating," Trump said.

The Republican president also told reporters that he did not know the three charged along with Bannon and did not believe he had ever met them.