Bannon, 66, and his co-defendants — Brian Kolfage, 38, Andrew Badolato, 56, and Timothy Shea, 49 — raised more than $25 million as part of their We Build the Wall campaign on a promise that all donations would go directly to the cause, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan. Instead, federal prosecutors allege, they routed funds to a shell organization and disguised personal payments with doctored invoices.
Following their arrests Aug. 20, the four men were accused of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering — charges that carry the possibility of significant prison time. Each has pleaded not guilty and was released on bond.
Monday marked the first court appearance in New York for Kolfage, Badolato and Shea. Bannon’s initial appearance occurred earlier this month, when he emerged from the courthouse and proclaimed, “This entire fiasco is to stop people who want to build the wall.”
All four were dialed into Monday’s video proceeding, but none was visible on the screen and they barely spoke.
The judge issued a warning to Kolfage, an Air Force veteran and conservative activist, after prosecutors complained about a series of scathing statements he’s made on social media accusing authorities of engaging in a broad political “witch hunt” and suggesting to the organization’s donors that authorities want to take possession of their personal and financial information.
His lawyer Harvey Steinberg said the U.S. attorney’s office smeared his client in a news release publicizing the charges and defended what he said was Kolfage’s right to stick up for himself.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe noted that prosecutors’ news release only “tracked the allegations in the indictment” while Kolfage was attempting to send messages to his victims. Moe said that her office was not yet seeking to impose a gag order on Kolfage but that it would ask for a hearing to determine whether one is needed if Kolfage goes too far.
The judge said she would consider ordering a hearing if she thinks Kolfage’s social media statements could jeopardize her ability to conduct a fair trial.
Trump energized conservatives during the 2016 presidential campaign by vowing to crack down on illegal immigration into the United States and build a wall along the country’s southern border. While in office, he has battled Congress over whether the project should be funded by American tax dollars, and the We Build the Wall organization became a venue for his supporters to aid its construction.
The campaign was publicly supported by several of the president’s allies, though Trump has said he felt the private fundraising effort was “something I very much thought was inappropriate to be doing.”