Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon has been arrested and charged with fraud over a fundraising campaign to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.
Mr Bannon and three others defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors in connection with the “We Build the Wall” campaign, which raised $25m (£19m), the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said.
Mr Bannon received more than $1m, at least some of which he used to cover personal expenses, it alleged.
In court, he entered a not guilty plea.
Mr Bannon, who has been released on bail, was a key architect of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election victory. His right-wing anti-immigration ideology fuelled Mr Trump’s “America First” campaign.
He was arrested on a 150-foot (45m) yacht called the Lady May in Connecticut by agents from the US Postal Inspection Service, which investigates fraud cases. The yacht is owned by Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, US media report.
Mr Bannon is the sixth former senior aide to Donald Trump to face criminal charges – after ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, veteran political operator Roger Stone, ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, ex-deputy campaign manager Rick Gates and ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Responding to Mr Bannon’s arrest, President Trump said he felt “very badly” about it. He also said he had had no involvement with “We Build the Wall”.
“I said, ‘This is for government; this isn’t for private people’ – and it sounded to me like showboating and I think I let my opinion be very strongly stated at the time,” he said.
What are the charges against Bannon?
The “We Build the Wall” campaign pledged to use donations to build segments of the border barrier – whose construction was a key Trump promise during the 2016 election – on private land.
But Audrey Strauss, the acting US Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), said Mr Bannon, Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea had “defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalising on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretence that all of that money would be spent on construction”.
Mr Bannon had received more than $1m through a non-profit organisation he controlled, at least some of which he used to cover “hundreds of thousands of dollars in Bannon’s personal expenses”, the DoJ said.
Meanwhile, Mr Kolfage – founder of “We Build the Wall” – covertly took $350,000 for his personal use, the statement said.
“While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, would not be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle,” Ms Strauss said.
SDNY Inspector-in-Charge Philip R Bartlett said the four created “sham invoices and accounts to launder donations and cover up their crimes, showing no regard for the law or the truth”.