Steve Bannon and his three co-defendants charged with stealing from a GoFundMe account set up to pay for a private border wall pleaded not guilty on Monday in a Zoom court hearing.
Bannon and co-defendants Brian Kolfage, an Iraq veteran and triple amputee, Timothy Shea and Andrew Badolato, were all charged earlier this month with using some of the money that had been donated by Trump supporters for their own benefit.
They denied it and said they were victims of a political vendetta against the president.
On Monday, none of the men had their cameras turned on for the Zoom hearing. The judge set the trial date for May 24.
Bannon (pictured being released from custody on August 20) will go to trial in May
An artist’s sketch of Monday’s Zoom hearing where Bannon, Andrew Badolato, Timoyh Shea and Brian Kolfage all pleaded not guilty
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe complained Monday that Kolfage has made comments on social media that violated local rules governing the behavior of parties to legal cases in New York federal court and threatened to taint the potential jury pool.
In a letter to the judge, prosecutors cited ‘a steady stream’ of ‘highly inflammatory’ public statements Kolfage has made, including claims that the prosecution was an assault on the freedom of donors for ‘political reasons.’
‘I gave 3 limbs defending this freedom, and I’d proudly give another to fight back at this injustice to preserve the future of this nation,’ Kolfage wrote in one Facebook post.
‘The witch hunt is on!’ he protested in another.
Kolfage’s attorney, Harvey Steinberg, said prosecutors were the real violators of local rules because of statements law enforcement authorities made the day of the arrests.
He said prosecutors were acting like a schoolyard bully who hits somebody and then ‘runs to the teacher’ when struck back.
Timothy Shea (left) and Andrew Badolato (right) have also been charged as part of the scheme
Brian Kolfage, a triple amputee who served in Iraq, with his wife Ashley. He is accused of spending most of the allegedly stolen money
The judge warned all parties to obey local rules banning statements that could interfere with a fair trial or prejudice the case.
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 Monday. 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.
In 2018, Kolfage set up the GoFundMe account in support of President Trump and to prove the nation’s appetite for a border wall between the US and Mexico.
It was inundated with donations from Republicans and had collected more than $20million by December that year. GoFundMe became suspicious of where the money was going and warned Kolfage to donate it to a legitimate charity or refund everyone who’d given to it.
Kolfage launched the private wall effort in December 2018. He took it off GoFundMe recently because, he claimed, the company was not allowing him to fundraise for victims of assaults by BLM protesters
That is when, prosecutors say, Bannon, Timothy Shea and Andrew Badolato got involved. They used shell companies and a not-for-profit formed by Bannon to launder the money back to Kolfage and keep some for themselves, it’s claimed.
The fund would pay the shell companies, then they would deposit the money back into accounts held by Kolfage or his wife, marking the transactions down as for ‘media’, ‘consulting’ or ‘social media’, it is alleged.
Despite claiming on the GoFundMe that he’d ‘never take a penny’ from the donations, the indictment alleges that Kolfage took a $20,000-a-month salary from it in addition to a one-off, $100,000 payment. In total, he took $350,000, it’s claimed.
Bannon allegedly took $1million from it – some of which he used to pay Kolfage, but some he allegedly kept and spent on hotels, travel and credit card debt.
Kolfage was arrested in Florida, where he lives in a golf community on the panhandle.
On Friday, Ashley uploaded a picture of herself in a bikini to Instagram with the caption: ‘When you know the truth, you’re not scared.
‘Thanks for all the love and support! So happy to know there is more positive people then negative out there. Also it’s R.E.D. Friday.’
On Thursday, after he was released from custody, she told followers: ‘Brian is on his way home… that didn’t last long. Thanks for all the prayers’.
While Bannon is the most recognizable name in the indictment, Kolfage, 38, and his wife Ashley, 33, spent the money most enthusiastically.
The pair live with their two children in a $290,000 home in Miramar, on the Florida panhandle.