Donald Trump’s former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon was arrested and charged with defrauding donors. After promising to use money raised by an organization called We Build the Wall on border wall construction projects at the U.S.-Mexico border, Bannon is accused of misusing the funds, primarily for personal expenses.
On Thursday, Audrey Strauss, acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney, charged Bannon and three other individuals each with “one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering,” Truthout reported.
“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,” Strauss said.
“We Build the Wall”(since renamed to “We The People BUILT the Wall!”) is a nonprofit organization started by Brian Kolfage, a veteran, to fund and build a private wall at the country’s southern border because lawmakers continued to block Trump’s attempt to deliver on one of his key campaign promises in 2016. The organization “had collected $25.6 million from over 250,000 individual donors,” Wired reported.
While Kolfage promised he would “not take a penny of compensation” raised by the organizationl, a criminal complaint filed by Strauss claims Kolfage and Bannon along with Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, broke that promise and used hundreds of thousands of dollars from the GoFundMe campaign for themselves, rather than the construction of the border wall.
Bannon, who served on the Trump administration before being fired after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was brought on by Kolfage as a collaborator and assumed the role of day-to-day operations. According to prosecutors, the promise that “100 percent of funds raised” would go toward wall construction and “Board won’t see any of that money!” extended to Bannon and Badolato.
According to the indictment, Kolfage took over $350,000 dollars from the organization while Bannon, Badolato, and Shea each “received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds to build the wall,” which they allegedly spent on anything from personal travel to credit card debt. When Kolfage and Badolato got word that they might be under investigation, they “allegedly switched over to an encrypted messaging platform” and mention of Kolfage not taking a penny from the organization was erased from its website “and replaced with a statement that he would receive one starting January 2020,” Wired reported.
“As alleged, not only did they lie to donors, they schemed to hide their misappropriation of funds by creating sham invoices and accounts to launder donations and cover up their crimes, showing no regard for the law or the truth,” Philip R. Bartlett, inspector-in-charge of the New York Field Office of the United States Postal Inspection Service who was part of the investigation, said. “This case should serve as a warning to other fraudsters that no one is above the law, not even a disabled war veteran or a millionaire political strategist.”