Steve Bannon, Former White House Strategist, Arrested and Charged With Fraud
Donald Trump's former campaign executive was indicted for allegedly defrauding donors through a crowdfunding effort called We Build the Wall.
On Thursday, New York federal prosecutors arrested Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's former campaign executive and chief White House strategist, and indicted him for allegedly defrauding donors through the crowdfunding campaign We Build the Wall. Bannon was charged along with Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato, and Timothy Shea, who were accused of using hundreds of thousands of dollars raised in the campaign for personal expenses. They face one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which can lead up to 20 years in prison.
"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 Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a 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."
The GoFundMe page for the We Build the Wall campaign was created in late 2018 to raise money directly from the public to fund Trump's long-discussed Mexico border wall. Kolfage publicly guaranteed that 100 percent of funds raised would go toward the wall and that he would not take any money for compensation, but the indictment alleges he actually took more than $350,000 for personal use.
According to prosecutors, Bannon used more than $1 million of We Build the Wall funds to pay Kolfage and cover some of his own personal expenses. Officials arrested him on a boat off the coast of Connecticut on Thursday morning; he is expected to appear in court in the afternoon.
Last October, when the suspects found out that their campaign might be under federal investigation, they allegedly took steps to hide their activity, like using encrypted messaging. Two days ago, Kolfage tweeted that he was taking the campaign off GoFundMe and moving it to a different platform because GoFundMe supports the Black Lives Matter movement.
Asked about Bannon's arrest on Thursday, Trump said it was a "very sad thing" and added that he had no involvement with We Build the Wall. "I know nothing about the project other than I didn't like [it]," he said. "When I read about it I didn't like it. I said, 'This is for government, this isn't for private people,' and it sounded to me like showboating." But in February, CNN reported that members of Trump's administration had been in touch with We Build the Wall about how the group could move forward with their plans.
Following news of Bannon's arrest, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted out her thoughts on the matter. "All the heinous things that Bannon is responsible for and it's a GoFundMe page that does him in," she wrote. "Mediocre till the very end."