Top former Trump strategist Steve Bannon is expected to surrender to New York authorities on Thursday to face state fraud charges surrounding his role in a fundraising effort to privately underwrite the construction of the US-Mexico border wall, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The expected move by the Manhattan district attorney’s office was quietly communicated to Bannon in recent days, the sources said of the indictment, which remains under seal, and Bannon is expected to turn himself in at 9am ET before probably being released on his own recognizance.
Bannon, the sources said, is expecting to face fraud charges alleging that he siphoned off more than $1m for personal expenses from the “We Build the Wall” fundraising effort that promised to send all proceeds towards underwriting the completion of the US-Mexico border wall.
The state charges are expected to mirror a previous federal indictment that also charged three others – disabled veteran Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea – for defrauding donors to the online crowdfunding scheme that raised more than $25m, according to court filings.
Bannon received a presidential pardon from Donald Trump in the last days of his administration that expunged the federal charges. But pardons do not apply to state-level prosecutions and the New York state charges mark significant legal peril for the architect of Trump’s 2016 election win.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office started examining whether to pursue a case against Bannon almost immediately after he received the pardon, one source with knowledge of the matter said, and several close Bannon allies recently received subpoenas to testify before a grand jury.
That office opened its case armed with the knowledge that two others – Kolfage and Badolato – had pleaded guilty to the August 2020 federal case, and that Kolfage had admitted to the judge that he had conspired to illegally receive money from donations made to the project.
The expected indictment comes weeks after Bannon was convicted on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol attack. Bannon is expected to appeal that conviction.
Constructing a wall at the US-Mexico border became a rallying cry for Trump throughout his 2016 campaign – overseen by Bannon – and his presidency, and the charges suggested Bannon and his co-defendants exploited the popularity of the project to dupe donors for their own gain. Trump had promised that the wall would be paid for by Mexico.
“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,” Audrey Strauss, the US attorney in Manhattan, said at the time.
The developments in the federal case were closely watched, initially because of Bannon’s involvement, and how he was pulled off a luxury yacht by federal agents, and then after his pardon, because none of the other three defendants received similar executive action from Trump.
According to the federal indictment, prosecutors said Bannon and his co-defendants misrepresented that all the money raised would be used “in the execution of our mission and purpose” in order to convince Trump supporters to donate to the project.
The fundraising effort brought in more than $25m – at which point Bannon, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker, siphoned off more than $1m through a non-profit organization that he controlled to help pay Kolfage and for personal expenses, the indictment said.
Kolfage took more than $350,000 in donated funds and used that money to pay for home renovations, a luxury SUV, a boat, a golf cart, cosmetic surgery and jewelry, the indictment said. Kolfage and Badolato both pleaded guilty to the charges.