Bannon co-defendant pleads not guilty to U.S. border wall fraud; judge sets trial date

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Brian Kolfage, the U.S. Air Force veteran charged alongside former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon with defrauding donors in a scheme to build the president’s signature wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, pleaded not guilty on Monday.

Federal prosecutors on Aug. 20 accused Bannon, Kolfage and two other defendants of defrauding donors through a $25 million crowdfunding campaign called “We Build the Wall.” Bannon and Kolfage used hundreds of thousands of dollars of that money to cover personal expenses, according to the charges.

Bannon, 66, also has pleaded not guilty.

U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan set a May 24, 2021 trial date for the case.

During the virtual hearing, the judge noted that only a few courtrooms in the building were outfitted to handle technical challenges posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m going to be optimistic and hope that we have courtrooms available,” she said.

Kolfage, 38, lost both legs and his right hand in a 2004 rocket attack in Iraq.

As a top adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign and later White House chief strategist, Bannon helped articulate the “America First” right-wing populism and fierce opposition to immigration that have been hallmarks of Trump’s 3-1/2 years in office.

Two other men charged with taking part in the scheme – Andrew Badolato, 56, and Timothy Shea, 49 – also entered not guilty pleas on Monday.

Kolfage, Badolato, and Shea were all granted bail and surrendered their passports.

In a court filing last week, prosecutors asked the judge to warn Kolfage and the other defendants against making “extrajudicial statements” that could taint the jury pool, citing what they called a “steady stream” of often “highly inflammatory posts” by Kolfage on social media.

The posts included descriptions of the case as a “witch hunt” and a political effort targeting Trump supporters, including donors to “We Build the Wall.”

“This is #WAR for control of the most powerful country in the world,” Kolfage posted on Aug. 23, accompanied by a photo of Bannon emerging from court.

Trump has said he felt “very badly” about the charges against Bannon, whom he fired from his White House post in 2017, but added that he had not dealt with his former adviser for “literally years.”

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