Donald Trump’s former chief advisor and strategist Steve Bannon and three others were arrested Thursday, Aug. 20, on charges of fraud in connection with the “We Build The Wall” crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $25 million for construction of a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The federal indictment, announced by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, alleges Steve Bannon and co-defendant Brian Kolfage publicly touted “We Build The Wall” as a “volunteer organization” that would spend “100% of the funds raised” for the campaign’s “mission and purpose.”
Instead, hundreds of thousands of dollars donors contributed to the effort went into Bannon’s pockets and were used for his personal expenses, federal prosecutors allege. Bannon, 66, was arrested on a boat Thursday off the Eastern coast of Connecticut by federal agents and officials from the United States Postal Inspection Service, CNN reported, citing law enforcement officials.
The other three conspirators were arrested in Florida and Colorado and charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
“As alleged, the defendants defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalizing on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretense that all of that money would be spent on construction,” Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss 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.”
Bannon and the other defendants used the bogus nonprofit and a shell company to hide the personal payments though “fake invoices and sham ‘vendor’ arrangements,” among other means, federal prosecutors said.
Prosecutors also allege that when Kolfage, Bannon and Badolato learned in the fall of 2019 that federal investigators were looking into their campaign, they allegedly “took additional steps to conceal the fraudulent scheme,” the indictment said.
In an effort to clean up the fraud scheme, the defendants allegedly ended Kolfage’s salary payments, used messaging apps that encrypted their exchanges, and wiped text from the website saying that Kolfage would not be compensated. That language was replaced with a statement that Kolfage would start collecting a salary in January 2020.
Trump said he felt “very badly” about Bannon’s arrest and immediately added “I haven’t been dealing with him in a long period of time.”