BY: AARON KATERSKY and BILL HUTCHINSON, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s three co-defendants indicted in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering in connection to a crowdfunding campaign to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border each pleaded not guilty on Monday.
Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage, 38, Andrew Badolato, 56, and Timothy Shea, 49, entered their pleas in U.S. federal court in New York during a hearing conducted via teleconference due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The three men, along with the 66-year-old Bannon, were charged with defrauding donors through the $25-million crowdfunding “We Build the Wall campaign” by allegedly making false representations to contributors.
Bannon pleaded not guilty earlier this month to allegedly using hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations made to the campaign to pay personal expenses.
Judge Annalisa Torres of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York set a trial date of May 24, 2021.
“I’m going to be optimistic and hope that we have courtrooms available,” Torres said, noting the curtailing of in-person proceedings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Torres warned the defendants about statements they make outside of court that threaten “the court’s ability to conduct a fair trial.”
In court filings on Friday, federal prosecutors singled out Kolfage and asked Torres to warn him about his “steady stream of public statements via posts on his Facebook account” that could taint the jury pool.
Prosecutors said in court papers that Kolfage has repeatedly described the prosecution on social media as, among other things, “political,” a “witch hunt” and an assault on the freedom of every donor to the We Build the Wall campaign. Prosecutors say Kolfage has also claimed the case is an ‘”effort to take ‘political prisoners."”
Kolfage’s attorney complained about the government’s filing and how prosecutors portrayed the indictment.
“Reminds me of a bully,” Kolfage’s defense attorney Harvey A. Steinberg said.
Bannon, who was President Donald Trump’s former campaign CEO and later his chief strategist in the White House, has slammed the charges against him as “a political hit job” and “nonsense,” while vowing to fight the charges against him.
Prosecutors said Bannon and others defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors to the online campaign by falsely assuring them that the organizers were not taking a penny of donation money. Bannon had publicly stated, “we’re a volunteer organization.”
“Those representations were false,” the indictment said.
Bannon’s indictment makes him the sixth person associated with the top echelons of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign to face federal charges — a list that includes Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.
According to the indictment, Bannon took at least $1 million from the “We Build The Wall” campaign to secretly pay Kolfage, the group’s founder, and cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal expenses.
Bannon, Koflage, Badolato and Shea were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, the Justice Department said.
The indictment states that all four defendants allegedly defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors in connection with the crowdfunding campaign.
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