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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Bannon to surrender to New York authorities to face sealed indictment

Stephen K. Bannon, pardoned by former President Donald Trump in 2021, is turning himself in.

By Rebecca Davos O’Brien

Steve Bannon, the onetime political adviser to former President Donald Trump, is expected to surrender Thursday to New York authorities to face state charges in an indictment that remains sealed, according to a person familiar with the case.

The nature of the charges was unclear early Wednesday. But Bannon called them “phony” in a statement reported by NBC News. “They are coming after all of us,” he said. “I have not yet begun to fight.”

Danielle Filson, a spokesperson for Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, declined to comment.

The charges would not be Bannon’s first indictment. Trump pardoned Bannon in January 2021 before he could be brought to trial on federal fraud charges stemming from his work with We Build the Wall Inc., a fundraising operation set up to help fulfill the former president’s promise to create a physical barrier between the United States and Mexico.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office, then headed by Cyrus Vance Jr., began its own investigation after the presidential pardon, which covered only federal charges. The new indictment was first reported by The Washington Post.

Federal prosecutors had accused Bannon and three other men in 2020 of cheating donors to We Build the Wall, which aimed to construct at least 100 miles of barrier on private land.

The authorities said Bannon hatched a plot to defraud donors with three other men: Brian Kolfage, an Air Force veteran and triple amputee from Miramar Beach, Florida; Andrew Badolato, a venture capitalist from Sarasota, Florida; and Timothy Shea, an entrepreneur from Castle Rock, Colorado.

They were accused of taking money for personal expenses such as hotel and credit card bills and to buy jewelry, a golf cart and a luxury SUV. The fundraising effort collected more than $25 million, and prosecutors said Bannon used nearly $1 million of it for personal expenses.

Kolfage and Badolato pleaded guilty in April to wire fraud conspiracy in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. Kolfage also pleaded guilty to tax-related charges.

A federal judge declared a mistrial in the case against Shea in June after jurors reported an impasse, saying one juror had spoken in deliberations of a “government witch hunt” and refused to consider the evidence. Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said he planned to retry the case.

We Build the Wall was popularized in Instagram and Twitter posts boasting of ties to Trump. It was also promoted by Donald Trump Jr. and assembled an advisory board of right-wing luminaries. They included David Clarke, the former sheriff of Milwaukee County in Wisconsin; Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state; and Erik Prince, the founder of the private military company Blackwater, now known as Academi.

Few ideas were as galvanizing to Trump’s supporters as creating a physical barrier at the border. Chants of “build that wall” rang out during rallies. Many supporters saw the structure as the embodiment of Trump’s “America First” policies.

We Build the Wall was created to spur on the administration, which ultimately built about 450 miles of a wall along the border.

Kolfage had launched a GoFundMe campaign to further the effort. Prosecutors said he raised about $17 million in a week with Shea’s help. But GoFundMe suspended the campaign, saying it would return the donated money unless Kolfage found a nonprofit group to administer it, prosecutors said.

Soon Bannon and Badolato, who were working on a nonprofit meant to promote economic nationalism and American sovereignty, joined the campaign.

That led to the formation of We Build the Wall. Most donors who had given to the GoFundMe campaign transferred their money to the new group, and by the end of 2019 We Build the Wall had raised about $25 million.

According to an indictment, Bannon’s nonprofit funneled money from We Build the Wall to Kolfage and issued a fake IRS 1099 form saying it had paid his spouse for “media.” Shea created an anonymous shell company that received payments from We Build the Wall, the indictment said, keeping some and transferring some to Kolfage, saying it was for “social media” accounts and pages.

In all, federal prosecutors said, Kolfage received more than $350,000 from We Build the Wall. They said Badolato and Shea each received hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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