Former Trump Advisor Steve Bannon Arrested on Fraud Charges for Border Wall Fundraiser
Steve Bannon, a former advisor to President Donald Trump, was arrested Thursday on fraud charges. The Southern District of New York (SDNY) indicted Bannon and three accomplices for allegedly defrauding donors of a border wall fundraiser.
“Starting in approximately December 2018, Brian Kolfage, Stephen Bannon, Andrew Badolgato, and Timothy Shea, and others, orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors, including donors in the Southern District of New York, in connection with an online crowdfunding campaign ultimately known as “We Build The Wall” that raised more than $25 million to build a wall along the southern border of the United States,” the lawsuit states. “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.’”
Elaborate Scheme to Shuffle Money
An investigation found that Bannon and his partners siphoned money from the donations “to fund [Kolfage’s] lavish lifestyle,” said Audrey Strauss, acting US attorney for SNDY. Kolfage was the founder of the campaign and served as its public representative.
According to the lawsuit, he received $350,000 that was intended to be used for the border wall fundraiser. Bannon received even more, with the suit alleging he pocketed “over $1 million” via a non-profit that he controls. Bannon used some of it to cover “hundreds of thousands of dollars” of personal expenses.
Bannon’s nonprofit was used in coordination with a shell company owned by Shea to pass payments through to Kolfage. All of the men are accused of profiting illegally by defrauding donors of the border wall fundraiser and each had a hand in organizing the scheme.
SDNY charged the four men with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Although a sentence has not yet been recommended, each charge could earn the alleged conspirators to 20 years in prison.
Common Bonds Unite Defendants
The indictments are the result of an investigation carried out by the New York Attorney General’s Public Corruption Unit with help from the US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).
The ‘We Build the Wall’ campaign was created in 2018 by Kolfage who received viral notoriety after launching it on GoFundMe, CNBC reported. As it raced to success, raising millions of dollars, GoFundMe throated to halt the fundraiser due to a lack of non-profit backing. Kolfage’s connections to right-wing publications helped him form a relationship to Bannon and Badolato.
Both Kolfage and Badolato were conservative writers for conservative blogs, Facebook groups, and outlets such as Breitbart News, which Bannon formerly led. Kolfage was featured on Fox News and Fox Business during his border wall fundraiser campaign.
Another Trump Associate Charged
Investigators are looking to make an example of Bannon, Kolfage, Bolagat, and Shea.
“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, said Philip Bartlett, Inspector in Charge of the New York Division of USPIS. This case should serve as a warning to other fraudsters that no one is above the law, not even a disabled war veteran (Kolfage) or a millionaire political strategist (Bannon).”
Bannon is the most recent Trump associate to be federally indicted. Eight others were charged before him during the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Most recently, Trump commuted the sentence for his long-time advisor and conservative strategist Roger Stone. The Department of Justice also moved to drop all charges against former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and the motion was argued on Aug. 11.
A trial in Bannon’s case would likely reach beyond the Jan. 20 inauguration, however, meaning that if Trump were to lose the election, he would be unable to help Bannon.
Allies Turned Enemies
Bannon had a long history with Trump and joined him in the White House when he took office. Controversially, he was given a seat on the National Security Council Principals Committee, although he only went to a single meeting. Bannon was either fired or resigned, depending on the White House source who tells the story, on Aug. 18, 2017, amid allegations that he influenced Trump’s response to a violent Neo-Nazi rally.
Trump said accused “many sides” of instigating the rioting that prompted one death and critics blamed Bannon for the perceived weak response, The New York Times reported. Ultimately, the two parted ways, but Bannon remained politically-involved, even on the global stage. Notably, he and Trump came head-to-head in a proxy fight in a special Alabama Senate election in 2017.
While the president backed Republican candidate Luther Strange, Bannon campaigned for Roy Moore, who ultimately won his primary race before losing to Democrat Doug Jones, after sexual assault allegations torpedoed Moore’s campaign.