Ex-Trump adviser accused of fraud in fund-raiser for border wall

Steve Bannon was among several people charged with wire fraud in an indictment in Manhattan.
Steve Bannon was among several people charged with wire fraud in an indictment in Manhattan.

WASHINGTON • Steve Bannon, an architect of American President Donald Trump's 2016 election victory, has been charged with fund-raising fraud in a campaign that claimed it would help Mr Trump build his signature wall on the US-Mexico border, the US Justice Department said yesterday.

Bannon was among several people charged with wire fraud in an indictment by federal prosecutors in Manhattan for allegedly defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors through a US$25 million (S$34 million) crowdfunding campaign called "We Build the Wall".

"As alleged, the defendants defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalising on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretence that all of that money would be spent on construction," US attorney Audrey Strauss said in a press release yesterday, reported Bloomberg.

Prosecutors said Bannon received more than US$1 million of that money through a non-profit organisation. MSNBC reported that Bannon is expected to plead not guilty to the charges.

As a top adviser to Mr Trump's presidential campaign who later served as chief White House strategist, Bannon helped articulate the right-wing populism and fierce opposition to immigration that have helped define Mr Trump's 31/2 years in office.

Bannon left the White House in August 2017, reported Reuters.

Mr Trump's signature effort to build a wall along the US-Mexico border - a key 2016 campaign promise - has struggled amid court challenges, logistical hurdles and opposition from Democrats in Congress.

In the meantime, more than 330,000 supporters have donated to private fund-raisers and profiteers who have promised to build the wall on their own, according to a 2019 Reuters investigation.

Those efforts likewise have met with limited success.

The indictment comes as Mr Trump trails in opinion polls behind Democratic challenger Joe Biden ahead of the Nov 3 presidential election.

A spokesman for Bannon could not be immediately reached for comment.

Also charged were Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea.

Kolfage, who prosecutors described as the public face and founder of the operation, received thousands of dollars that he used to fund a lavish lifestyle.

Kolfage was due to appear in federal court yesterday in Florida, while Bannon was set to appear in federal court in Manhattan.

The other two defendants were due to appear in courts in the Middle District of Florida and Colorado.

Website Axios reported that Bannon is the sixth person linked to the 2016 Trump campaign to be hit with federal charges.

The others are Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2020, with the headline 'Ex-Trump adviser accused of fraud in fund-raiser for border wall'. Print Edition | Subscribe