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Steve Bannon, a former top adviser to President Donald Trump, is one of several people associated with the “We Build The Wall” organization who were arrested Thursday and charged with massively defrauding donors.
In a statement, the Justice Department alleged that Bannon and the others schemed to defraud investors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars after the charity aimed at building sections of border wall along the U.S.-Mexico boundary collected in excess of $25 million.
“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 with the Southern District of New York said, according to the DoJ statement.
“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,” Strauss continued.
“The defendants allegedly engaged in fraud when they misrepresented the true use of donated funds,” added Philip R. Bartlett, Inspector-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the United States Postal Inspection Service.
“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,” Bartlett continued.
“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.”
The Justice Department also identified Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea as additional suspects.
We Build The Wall was founded by Kolfage, an Air Force veteran and triple amputee who lost his limbs in Iraq, was previously accused of using Facebook to inconspicuously connect with his website, Right Wing News, in order to bolster his campaign to privately fund sections of the wall.
According to the Justice Department, the alleged defrauding began around December 2018 when the organization was founded.
“In particular, to induce donors to donate to the campaign, Kolfage repeatedly and falsely assured the public that he would ‘not take a penny in salary or compensation’ and that ‘100% of the funds raised . . . will be used in the execution of our mission and purpose’ because, as Bannon publicly stated, ‘we’re a volunteer organization,’” the DoJ said.
“Those representations were false,” the department added.
All four are charged with a single count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
According to the charging document, Kolfage allegedly funneled $350,000 to his personal accounts, while Bannon is accused of taking more than $1 million. The group is accused of routing donations through a shell company under Shea’s control using phony invoices and fake “vendor” arrangements, among other ways.
Prosecutors also allege that Kolfage noted in a text message to Badolato that his pay arrangement should remain “confidential” and left on a “need to know” basis.
Bannon, a former executive at Breitbart News, joined President Trump’s 2016 campaign and became a top adviser until he left the administration in August 2017, rejoining the outlet.
I’ve had the displeasure of knowing Bannon for a decade, so not surprised by the news, but I hope the media also focuses on the other dudes involved with swindling people. Watch media try to somehow hang this on POTUS even though he kicked Sloppy Steve to the curb ages ago.
— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) August 20, 2020
Congratulations to @realDonaldTrump for acting years ago to cut ties with Steve Bannon.
He clearly saw something that made him do it.
— Kurt Schlichter (@KurtSchlichter) August 20, 2020
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