United States President Donald Trump’s former top advisor, Steve Bannon, on Thursday was charged with fraud for his involvement in the “We Build the Wall” campaign, an online fundraising effort to erect a barrier along the Mexican border. The crowdfunding campaign had collected more than $25 million, the US Department of Justice said in a statement.
The charges against Bannon were contained in an indictment unsealed at the Federal District Court in Manhattan. He is expected to appear before a US magistrate judge in New York later in the day, according to AP.
Audrey Strauss, the acting US attorney in Manhattan, said that Bannon “defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalising 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”. He allegedly hatched the plan with three others: Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea.
The statement added that Bannon had received more than $1 million (Rs 7.50 crore) through a non-profit organisation he controlled, at least some of which he used to cover “hundreds of thousands of dollars in Bannon’s personal expenses”.
Bannon promised that 100% of the donated money would be used for the project, but he along with the other accused, collectively used hundreds of thousands of dollars in a manner inconsistent with the organisation’s public representations, according to the indictment.
Meanwhile, Kolfage – the founder of “We Build the Wall” – promised his donors that he would “not take a penny in salary or compensation” and that all of the money he raised would be used “in the execution of our mission and purpose”, prosecutors said.
The indictment said the four created fake invoices and accounts for laundering donations and hide their crimes, adding that they showed “no regard for the law or the truth”.
“As alleged, not only did they lie to donors, they schemed to hide their misappropriation of funds by creating sham invoices and accounts to launder donations and cover up their crimes, showing no regard for the law or the truth,” it added. “This case should serve as a warning to other fraudsters that no one is above the law, not even a disabled war veteran or a millionaire political strategist.”
Bannon and the other accused have been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.