Bannon pleaded not guilty this afternoon at a brief presentment before U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan, and was freed on $5 million bond which restricts his traveling. Bannon was arrested this morning on a Chinese billionaire’s yacht, and charged with fraud over a $25 million campaign to crowdfund a wall on the US southern border.
Three other executives of the We Build the Wall charity were also charged Thursday with plotting to defraud the donors and launder their money into their own pockets. Bannon; U.S. Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage; venture capitalist Andy Badolato; and Timothy Shea each face conspiracy counts that could carry a maximum 40-year sentence.
“To induce donors to donate to the campaign, Kolfage and Bannon — each of whom, as detailed herein, exerted significant control over We Build the Wall — repeatedly and falsely assured the public that Kolfage would ‘not take a penny in salary or compensation’ and that ‘100% of the funds raised … will be used in the execution of our mission and purpose’ because, as Bannon publicly stated, ‘we’re a volunteer organization,’” according to the indictment filed in the Southern District of New York.
“Those representations were false,” it continues.
According to Courthouse News, acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said the men defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors in this scheme, with the founder treating himself to a boat, Range Rover and a salary on the pretense that every penny the charity raised would be spent on construction.
“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,” said Strauss, who assumed the position of U.S. attorney earlier this summer after her predecessor Geoffrey Berman’s unexplained and unexpected ouster.
Officials from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the politically embattled U.S. Postal Service, reportedly arrested Bannon on a 150-foot yacht off the Eastern coast of Connecticut owned by Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui.
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