- Former Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon and three others were arrested on Thursday and charged by federal prosecutors with using a US-Mexico border wall fundraising effort called "We Build the Wall" to defraud donors.
- "We Build the Wall, Inc," a nonprofit Bannon and his associates founded, ultimately raised more than $25 million and sent some funds to efforts to build small portions of the wall on private land.
- Bannon and his associates told donors they would "not take a penny in salary or compensation" and then secretly took hundreds of thousands of dollars to enrich themselves, according to prosecutors.
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Former Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon and three others were arrested on Thursday and charged by federal prosecutors with defrauding donors to US-Mexico border wall fundraising effort, called "We Build the Wall," out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
During the federal government shutdown in December 2018, Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage launched the "We Build the Wall" fundraising effort, which he said aimed to raise $1 billion to help fund President Donald Trump's promised border wall. Bannon advised Kolfage on the project, and within a week, the group had raised $17 million.
When the GoFundMe crowdfunding platform warned the funds would be returned to donors if they weren't directed to a registered non-profit, Kolfage and his associates created a 501(c)4 non-profit called "We Build the Wall, Inc." They urged donors to redirect their funds to the non-profit. And they promised the money would help fund parts of the border wall built on privately-owned land.
The group went on to help fund small sections of the border wall, some of which are facing scrutiny for not complying with federal regulations and potentially being structurally unsound.
Kolfage told donors he would "not take a penny in salary or compensation" and that all of the funds raised would be used "in the execution of our mission and purpose," according to prosecutors.
Instead, prosecutors say Kolfage secretly took $350,000 from the non-profit and Bannon took more than $1 million, which he used to secretly pay Kolfage and cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in his own personal expenses. The two other associates, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, were also arrested and charged defrauding donors.
"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," Acting Manhattan US Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement.
USPIS Inspector-in-Charge Philip Bartlett alleged that Bannon, Kolfage, and their partners "schemed to hide their misappropriation of funds by creating sham invoices and accounts to launder donations and cover up their crimes."
Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a right-wing anti-immigration activist, also sat on the group's advisory board. In January 2019, Kobach told The New York Times that'd he'd discussed the "We Build the Wall" campaign with Trump and that the president told him, "the project has my blessing."
But last month, Trump criticized a three-mile long border fence funded and built by the group, which raised concerns because of erosion the barrier is causing along the Rio Grande river.
"I disagreed with doing this very small (tiny) section of wall, in a tricky area, by a private group which raised money by ads," Trump tweeted. "It was only done to make me look bad, and perhsps it now doesn't even work. Should have been built like rest of Wall, 500 plus miles."
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