Steve Bannon, the flamboyant co-founder of Breitbart News and former adviser to President Trump, was charged by federal prosecutors in Manhattan on Thursday morning with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He has reportedly been taken into custody by — in a strange twist — U.S. postal service agents, who apprehended him on a boat off the coast of Westbrook, Connecticut. Appearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stewart D. Aaron on Thursday afternoon via teleconference, he pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors allege that Bannon and three others —Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato, and Timothy Shea — defrauded donors who contributed to a crowdfunded effort to complete the U.S.-Mexico border wall, which was a central plank of President Trump’s 2016 campaign but has gone largely unbuilt.
Eager donors poured money into the organization, called We Build the Wall and headed up by Kolfage, a U.S. Air Force veteran. The organization raised more than $26 million, money that was promised to go directly into the construction of a barrier between the two countries. But prosecutors say at least some of it was funneled directly to Kolfage to help fund his “lavish lifestyle.” Bannon’s specific role in the scheme is not yet entirely clear.
He joins a long list of close Trump associates who have been brought up on criminal charges, including Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, and Michael Flynn.
Bannon was hired as Trump’s campaign manager in August 2016, then took on the role of chief strategist after Trump won the White House, before leaving in 2017. The pair’s relationship hit the skids in early 2018, after Bannon provided quotes for Michael Wolff’s White House exposé Fire and Fury. The president dubbed his former ally “Sloppy Steve” and claimed he had begged for his job. But Bannon still retained the ear of at least some people in the White House and has continued to advocate for Trumpian causes from the outside.
Bannon will be released on Thursday on a $5 million bond, which is secured by $1.7 million in cash, or property with co-signors. His bail conditions restrict his travel to the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York (which encompass Manhattan and Brooklyn), Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and parts of Connecticut. He must surrender his passport, and is not allowed to board “private yachts or boats.”