A May 2021 trial date has been set for US President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon on charges that he cheated donors to a group seeking to fund a southern border wall.
Bannon, 66, of Washington DC, appeared by audio but was not visible on a video screen as he appeared for the first time before US district judge Analisa Torres, who set a May 24 trial date.
In an indictment along with three others, he was charged two weeks ago with unlawfully raising more than 25 million US dollars (£22 million) for the We Build The Wall campaign.
Prosecutors said thousands of investors were duped into thinking all of their donations would go towards the project, even though Bannon diverted over a million dollars, paying a salary to one campaign official and personal expenses for himself.
Bannon pleaded not guilty after his arrest on August 20 on board a luxury yacht off the coast of Connecticut. He was freed on bail by a Manhattan magistrate judge.
As he left the courthouse, he shouted: “This entire fiasco is to stop people who want to build the wall.”
Also appearing by video screen were Bannon’s co-defendants, including Brian Kolfage, the project founder and an Air Force veteran who lost both legs in a mortar attack in Iraq.
Kolfage, 38, of Miramar Beach, Florida, spent some of the more than 350,000 dollars (£312,000) he received on home renovations, payments towards a boat, a luxury car, a golf cart, jewellery, cosmetic surgery, personal tax payments and credit card debt, the indictment said.
Also charged were Andrew Badolato, 56, of Sarasota, Florida, and Timothy Shea, 49, of Castle Rock, Colorado. Kolfage, Badolato and Shea entered not guilty pleas. They will be tried alongside Bannon in May.
All four are free on bail after being charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each charge carries a potential penalty of up to 20 years in prison.