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We Build the Wall exodus leaves company without ‘human beings’ in latest wrinkle of Steve Bannon fraud case

Former Trump Advisor Steve Bannon Indicted, Turns Himself In

Steve Bannon, former advisor to former President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media after his arraignment in NYS Supreme Court on Sept. 8, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

Steve Bannon appeared in court on Tuesday for a pre-trial hearing in a state prosecution accusing him of defrauding donors to We Build the Wall, a crowd-funding effort to erect a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

At the hearing, a counsel for We Build the Wall — which has been charged as a co-defendant — informed the court that the entire staff of the company has resigned. The corporation’s attorney wanted to follow suit.

Asked by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan whether the company’s attorney wanted to withdraw because he lacked resources or because he didn’t have a client, We Build the Wall’s lawyer answered: “Both.”

Prosecutors and defense attorneys both expressed uncertainty about how the company’s exodus would effect the case against the company. Justice Merchan also described the need for more information about how to proceed.

The judge ordered the company to return to court for a follow-up hearing for March 15, to discuss how to proceed.

Bannon, who now stands convicted of contempt of Congress, faces more possible criminal liability—and a stack of mounting legal bills—on allegations that he defrauded We Build the Wall’s donors by falsely claiming that every penny raised would go toward building the border wall.

As he walked into court on Tuesday, the former Donald Trump strategist casually waved to press waiting in the wings of a hallway. One journalist pointed a camera to him as he entered the court and asked Bannon whether he feared prison.

“I ain’t going to prison,” Bannon shot back. “It’s all a sham.”

Despite the bluster, Bannon remains increasingly isolated as erstwhile co-defendants and co-workers either exit or rack up convictions.

Outside the courtroom, a trio of activists held placards taunting Bannon’s ballooning legal pressures. One sign included the hashtag “#DeadBeat: LAWYERS Get your money upfront,” a reference to a lawsuit filed against him by the firm that represented him in multiple federal prosecutions. Two other signs dubbed him a hashtag “#GreasyGrifter,” labeling him a “CON MAN” and a “GLOBAL FASCIST.”

The Department of Justice previously accused him of having received roughly $1 million raised through a corporate entity, at least some of which covered six figures of Bannon’s personal expenses. The federal indictment charged him with co-defendants Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea. All three of those men now stand convicted, but Trump pardoned Bannon, and only Bannon, before trial.

The former president did not offer a theory as to why Bannon’s prosecution was supposedly unfair, but his co-defendants’ cases were deemed justified.

Only Shea fought the allegations at trial and was convicted on his second try.

The case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) does not accuse Bannon of personally benefiting from misrepresentations, focusing instead on the money collected by his alleged co-conspirators.

“We Build the Wall’s fundraisers used that phrase time and again — ‘not a penny,'” Bragg said. “But instead of pennies, the president had received more than $250,000 in a salary funded by donations, at least $140,000, we allege was funneled by Steve Bannon.”

Despite receiving a four-month jail sentence, Bannon remains a free man as he appeals his federal conviction for contempt of Congress in Washington, D.C. That case related to Bannon’s defiance of a subpoena by the Jan. 6th Committee.

The day before the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Bannon told listeners of his podcast “War Room”: “All hell will break loose tomorrow.” The committee played a clip from Bannon’s Jan. 5, 2021, broadcast during their public proceedings.

Bannon’s trial in the unrelated We Build the Wall case is currently scheduled for November 2023. A motions hearing has been scheduled for May 25.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."