Former White House adviser Stephen Bannon was arrested Thursday along with three others associated with the crowdfunded We Build the Wall campaign, which raised $25 million to build a fence along the United States border with Mexico.
The indictment filed in the Southern District of New York says they “orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors” by siphoning off contributions to the organization, which was meant to supplement President Trump’s pet project.
Bannon was charged, along with We Build the Wall founder Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Contrary to repeated public assurances by Kolfage, a disabled Air Force veteran, 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” to build a border wall, prosecutors charge that all four men “received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds from We Build the Wall, which they each used in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s public representations.”
Specifically, the indictment alleges that “Kolfage covertly took for his personal use more than $350,000 in funds that donors had given to We Build the Wall,” while Bannon received over $1 million through another unnamed nonprofit under his control, “at least some of which” was used to pay for hundreds of thousands of dollars in his personal expenses.
“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 stated in a press release announcing the indictments Thursday. “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, who had been deputy U.S. attorney, took over running the office in June after Attorney General William Barr engineered a clumsy ouster of the incumbent, Geoffrey Berman, for reasons that have never been publicly explained. Barr’s choice to replace Berman, Jay Clayton, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, met with resistance in the Senate, and his nomination was never formalized.
“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,” said Philip Bartlett,inspector in charge of the New York field office of the United States Postal Inspection Service, or USPIS, which collaborated with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York on the investigation.
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