Former White House strategist Steve Bannon was among four people indicted in a scheme prosecutors said funneled donations for a private border wall for their own “lavish” lifestyles, prosecutors said.
Bannon was charged along with Brian Kolfage, the founder of “We Build the Wall,” a private border wall scheme that raised over $25 million through a crowdfunding campaign, and associates Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea for their roles in “defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors.”
All four men were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each charge carries up to 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors say Bannon and Kolfage funneled donations to themselves.
Group lied to donors, prosecutors say:
Starting in December 2018, the group “repeatedly and falsely” assured donors that Kolfage 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.” Bannon publicly insisted that “we’re a volunteer organization,” prosecutors said.
But those representations were “false,” the Southern District of New York said. Kolfage took more than $350,000 in donations for personal use and Bannon, through a nonprofit, received more than $1 million in donations, some of which were used to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal expenses, the SDNY said.
The group “devised a scheme to route those payments” through shell companies and used fake invoices and other methods to keep the arrangement “confidential,” prosecutors said.
Group used funds for “lavish lifestyle”:
“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 US 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. We thank the USPIS for their partnership in investigating this case, and we remain dedicated to rooting out and prosecuting fraud wherever we find it.”
“The defendants allegedly engaged in fraud when they misrepresented the true use of donated funds,” added Inspector-in-Charge Philip Bartlett. “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. 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.”