Former Trump campaign advisor Steve Bannon was charged with fraud by federal prosecutors and arrested by agents from the US Postal Inspection Service on Thursday. The arrest comes as the Trump administration faces accusations it is trying to undermine the Postal Service in a crucial election year.
CBS News and NBC New York reported that federal agents from the Postal Inspection Service arrested Bannon on a boat off the coast of Westbrook, Connecticut. Bannon is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York announced on Thursday morning that they arrested and charged Bannon, Brian Kolfage, and two others with federal wire fraud and money laundering charges in connection with a multi-million dollar campaign to raise money to build a wall on the US southern border.
Prosecutors say that Kolfage and Bannon defrauded donors out of millions of dollars and used their donations to personally enrich themselves, funneling the money through a complicated web of shell companies and non-profits.
The US Postal Inspection service, or USPIS, is the law enforcement arm of the US Postal Service and investigates federal crimes that "may adversely affect or fraudulently use the U.S. Mail, the postal system or postal employees."
In this case, prosecutors say, both the wire fraud and money laundering involved the use of the US Mail. According to its website, the USPIS investigates a wide range of crimes, including narcotics trafficking, mail and identity theft, cybercrime, money laundering, and fraud and scams involving the mail.
US Attorney offices work with a number of federal investigative agencies, including the Federal Bureau Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the USPIS to bring federal criminal charges against defendants.
Over the past few weeks, the Postal Service has been the subject of a substantial amount of attention and controversy. It faces serious financial difficulties after significant drop-off in mail volume becase of the coronavirus pandemic. While the Postal Service is expected to remain solvent through next year, its financial state is a long-term problem.
New Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a shipping and logistics executive and GOP donor, has imposed cost-cutting measures that Democrats and critics argue will cause unacceptable mail delivery days ahead of a crucial election year.
DeJoy asserts that the Postal Service is more than prepared to handle an influx of election mail and will suspend all future operations changes until after the election, but Democrats in Congress are considering additional measures to shore up the agency.
Throughout the pandemic, Trump has rejected giving emergency funds or grants to the cash-strapped post office, which does not take taxpayer money and has seen a major revenue shortfall from the decline in mail volume caused by the pandemic.
In an August 13 interview with Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo, Trump said that he would reject emergency funding for the post office over his opposition to mail voting in a possible next COVID-19 relief bill. He later walked back his comments.
In addition to criticizing the US Postal Service for the rates it charges customers like Amazon for package delivery, Trump has spread false claims that voting by mail is inherently fraudulent. In reality, rates of fraud are extremely low, and there's no evidence that expanding voting by mail hurts or benefits either political party.