Former White House adviser Steve Bannon, an architect of Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory, was arrested on a yacht and pleaded not guilty on Thursday after being charged with defrauding donors in a scheme to help build the president’s signature wall along the US-Mexico border.
The charges were contained in an indictment (PDF) unsealed in Manhattan federal court, which alleges Bannon and three others “orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors”.
The indictment claims the “scheme” was related to an online crowdfunding campaign that claims to have raised more than $25m to build a wall along the southern border of the United States.
Bannon wore a protective white mask amid the coronavirus pandemic and two open-collared shirts at a federal court in Manhattan, where his lawyer entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf.
He was freed on $5m bond and was barred by a federal magistrate judge from traveling internationally.
As a top adviser to US President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign who later served as White House chief strategist, Bannon helped articulate the right-wing populism and fierce opposition to immigration that have helped define Trump’s three and a half years in office.
Bannon left the White House in August 2017.
Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea were arrested alongside Bannon, according to a statement from the US Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York.
Bannon had publicly called the We Build The Wall campaign a “volunteer organisation”.