NEW YORK — Steve Bannon, the former adviser to President Trump, pleaded not guilty Thursday after he and 3 others were indicted by federal prosecutors.
The men were charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with a crowdfunding campaign to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
Bannon, who also previously served as Trump’s campaign manager, was arrested Thursday morning on a yacht off the coast of Connecticut, prosecutors said.
He faces charges that he and three others were attempting to defraud donors to the “We Build the Wall” campaign.
In a statement, acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said, “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.”
Bannon was physically in the federal courthouse in Manhattan where his hearing was held on Thursday, but he appeared via video, wearing a mask and a buttoned-down shirt. He also appeared to be sunburned.
He pleaded not guilty and was released on $5 million bond, which will include $1.75 million in cash or real property and will need two co-signers. He has about two weeks to come up with the bond.
His travel is restricted to a handful of northeast states. He cannot travel internationally, and he also cannot travel on any private planes, yachts or boats.
Bannon was indicted along with Brian Koflage, 38, of Mirimar Beach, Florida, Andrew Badolato, 56, of Sarasota, Florida, and Timothy Shea, 49, of Castle Rock, Colorado — all four men were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
An immigration plan unveiled by Trump in 2019 included a proposal to allow public donations to pay for his long-promised border wall. At that point, the campaign launched by Kolfage, a veteran, had raised more than $20 million for wall construction.
Trump denounced the project publicly in July, tweeting that he, “disagreed with doing this very small (tiny) section of wall, in a tricky area, by a private group which raised money by ads. It was only done to make me look bad, and perhaps it now doesn’t even work.”
The president told reporters Thursday that he knew nothing about the project, and never believed in a privately-financed border wall: “I thought that was a project being done for showboating reasons.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also weighed in: “As everyone knows, President Trump has no involvement in this project and felt it was only being done in order to showboat, and perhaps raise funds.”
She added that the president “has not been involved with Steve Bannon since the campaign and the early part of the Administration, and he does not know the people involved with this project.”
Prosecutors allege that while Bannon and others assured donors that they were not taking a penny in donation money, “those representations were false.”
According to the indictment, Bannon himself “received over $1 million from We Build the Wall,” which prosecutors allege he used to “cover hundreds of thousands of dollars” in personal expenses.
They faked invoices and sham “vendor” arrangements, among other ways, to hide what was really happening, according to the indictment. “All money donated to the ‘We Build the Wall’ campaign goes directly to wall!!! Not anyone’s pocket,” the lawsuit said.
The crowdfunding campaign raised at least $25 million with the purpose of building a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.