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Bannon charged with money laundering in connection with a wall construction project

Former President Donald Trump’s longtime ally Steve Bannon surrendered on Thursday to face charges in New York, alleging he deceived donors who gave money to build a wall on the US southern border — a state-level reboot of a federal case that ended in a presidential pardon last year.

Bannon, 68, is expected to be arraigned Thursday afternoon on charges of money laundering, conspiracy and fraud related to the “We Build the Wall” campaign. He is the second person pardoned by Trump and later charged by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for the same alleged conduct.

Manhattan prosecutors said that although Bannon promised that all donations would go towards building the wall, he was involved in transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars to third-party entities and used them to funnel payments to two other people involved in the scheme.

The indictment did not identify those individuals by name, but the details match those of Brian Kolfage and Andrew Badolato, who pleaded guilty to federal charges in April.

“It is a crime to profit by lying to donors, and in New York you will be held accountable,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement.

Bannon’s charges in New York stem from the same alleged conduct as an attempted federal prosecution that ended abruptly, pretrial, when Trump pardoned Bannon on his last day in office. Manhattan prosecutors also charged WeBuildTheWall Inc., the nonprofit entity that Bannon and his former co-defendants used to solicit donations.

Presidential pardons only apply to federal crimes, not state misdemeanors. Last year, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office charged Ken Kurson, a friend of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, with cyberstalking months after Trump pardoned him in a similar federal case.

Like Bannon, Kurson was pardoned early in his federal case, before acquittal or conviction, denying any double jeopardy arguments.

Arriving at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office shortly after 9 a.m. Thursday, Bannon said it was “an irony” that the mayor of New York is objecting to buses full of migrants sent into the city from Texas while that prosecutors “persecute people here, who try to arrest them at the border.

Earlier, Bannon had accused Bragg of pursuing “false charges” against him, saying the Democratic prosecutor had targeted him ahead of November’s midterm elections because he and his radio show were popular among Republican supporters of Trump.

Bannon, in a statement Tuesday, said federal prosecutors “did the exact same thing in August 2020 to try to remove me from the election,” referring to his arrest months before Trump’s re-election loss. “This is nothing more than partisan political militarization of the criminal justice system.”

Bragg and New York Attorney General Letitia James have scheduled a 1 p.m. press conference to discuss the charges against Bannon.

In 2020, federal agents removed Bannon from a luxury yacht off the Connecticut coast and arrested him for pocketing more than $1 million in donations to the wall-building effort. In total, more than $25 million was raised, prosecutors said.

In that case, federal prosecutors alleged that Bannon and his co-defendants capitalized on public fervor for border security — a mainstay of Trump’s presidential campaign — and tricked thousands into believing that 100% of their donations would go towards building a wall along the 1,933- mile US-Mexico line.

Instead, according to federal prosecutors, Bannon used some of the money to pay for personal expenses and a secret salary to Kolfage, co-founder of “We Build the Wall.”

“All the money you give goes to building the wall,” Bannon told donors at a fundraising event in June 2019, according to the New York indictment unsealed Thursday. Kolfage, who is not charged in the state case, has repeatedly promised, “I will not take a penny of these donations, not a penny,” the indictment says.

Hundreds of Manhattan residents donated to “We Build the Wall,” prosecutors said.

Bannon, who had pleaded not guilty to the federal charges, was removed from the federal case when Trump pardoned him.

Kolfage, a US Air Force veteran who lost both his legs in a mortar attack in Iraq, and Badolato, a Florida financier, were due to be sentenced this week, but it was recently postponed until December. The trial of a third defendant ended in a mistrial in June after jurors said they could not reach a unanimous verdict.

In another case not covered by Trump’s pardon, Bannon was found in July in contempt for defying a congressional subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 uprising on the U.S. Capitol. He is due in October and faces up to two years in federal prison.