WASHINGTON (Reuters) – 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 center of the case.
“I do think it’s a sad event,” Trump said. “I haven’t dealt with him at all now for years, literally years.”
Bannon represents the latest close Trump associate to face criminal charges, a list that also includes former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign deputy chairman Rick Gates. Trump last month commuted Stone’s prison sentence, using his power of executive clemency to benefit a political ally.
A lawyer for Bannon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump has struggled to build his signature border wall – a key 2016 campaign promise – in the face of court challenges, logistical hurdles and opposition from congressional Democrats. His administration has completed 30 new miles (48 km) of border fencing and replaced another 240 miles (386 km) of barriers along the 2,000-mile (3,200-km) border, government figures show.
More than 330,000 supporters have donated to private fund-raisers and profiteers who have promised to build the wall on their own, according to a 2019 Reuters investigatihere
Source : www.reuters.com