The architect of Donald Trump’s 2016 election win has been charged with defrauding hundreds of thousands of people who donated money to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.
Steve Bannon was among three others who allegedly squandered $US25 million ($35 million) from a crowdfunding campaign called ‘We Build the Wall’.
Its founder, Brian Kolfage, used the money raised for lavish personal expenses, federal prosecutors alleged.
Meanwhile, Mr Bannon, a former senior adviser to the US President, repeatedly assured donors that Mr Kolfage “would not be paid a cent”, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss said.
“The defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle,” Ms Strauss said, referring to Mr Bannon, Mr Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea.
It’s alleged they each used money from the We Build the Wall campaign “in a manner inconsistent with the organisation’s public representations”.
They have each been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Ms Strauss said they capitalised on “their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretense that all of that money would be spent on construction”.
Not only did Mr Bannon and the three others lie to donors, they “schemed to hide their misappropriation of funds”, Southern District of New York Inspector-in-Charge Philip Bartlett said.
The group allegedly created “sham invoices and accounts to launder donations and cover up their crimes, showing no regard for the law or the truth”, Mr Bartlett said.
“This case should serve as a warning to other fraudsters that no one is above the law, not even a disabled war veteran or a millionaire political strategist.”
Mr Bannon was a campaign and White House adviser to Mr Trump, who made the construction of a border wall a key campaign promise in 2016.
Mr Kolfage is due to appear in federal court later on Thursday in Florida while Mr Bannon is set to appear in federal court in Manhattan.
The other two defendants are due to appear in courts in the Middle District of Florida and Colorado.