Steve Bannon, an architect of Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory, has been charged with defrauding Trump supporters in a campaign to help build the president’s signature wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, prosecutors said on Thursday.
As a top adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign who later served as White House chief strategist, Bannon helped articulate the right-wing populism and fierce opposition to immigration that have been hallmarks of Trump’s 3-1/2 years in office. Trump fired Bannon from his White House post in August 2017.
Bannon, 66, was among four people arrested on Thursday and charged by federal prosecutors in Manhattan with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. They each face up to 40 years in prison.
Bannon was arrested aboard a 150-foot-long (45-meter-long) yacht in Connecticut, according to a law enforcement source.
Prosecutors accused the defendants of defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors through a $25 million crowdfunding campaign called “We Build the Wall,” the Justice Department said. Prosecutors said Bannon received more than $1 million of that money through an unnamed nonprofit organization.
Bannon heads a nonprofit organization called Citizens of the American Public that received more than $4.4 million in contributions in 2018, government filings show.
The famously disheveled entrepreneur headed the right-wing Breitbart News before joining Trump’s campaign. Bannon later returned to that job, but quit after angering Trump. He has since promoted a variety of right-wing causes and candidates in the United States and abroad.
Trump told reporters at the White House that he feels “very badly” about Bannon’s charges but sought to distance himself from Bannon and the alleged scheme at the centre of the case.