Ex-Trump aide Bannon pleads not guilty in border wall scheme

NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon pleaded not guilty to charges that he ripped off donors to an online fundraising scheme to build a southern border wall in federal court Thursday, hours after he was pulled from a yacht off the coast of Connecticut and arrested.

He and three others were charged in an indictment unsealed Thursday in Manhattan federal court.

Bannon was taken into custody around 7 a.m. by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service on a 150-foot luxury yacht called Lady May, which was off the coast of Connecticut, authorities said.

The boat is owned by exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui and currently for sale for nearly $28 million.

At his hearing the same day, Bannon had his hands cuffed in front of him while a large, white mask covered most of his face. He rocked back and forward as he sat on a chair in a holding cell at Manhattan federal court, from where he appeared via video as his lawyers were on the telephone.

The magistrate judge approved Bannon’s release on $5 million bail, secured by $1.75 million in assets.

The “We Build The Wall” fundraiser was headed by men who pushed their close ties to President Trump, giving their effort a legitimacy that helped them raise more than $25 million.

But according to the criminal charges unsealed Thursday, much of the money never made it to the wall. Instead, it was used to line the pockets of group members, including Bannon, who served in Trump’s White House and worked for his campaign. He allegedly took over $1 million, using some to secretly pay co-defendant Brian Kolfage, the founder of the project, and to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal expenses.

Bannon is among numerous former Trump associates who have found themselves under indictment or in jail, including his former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, and his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

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