Former Donald Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon and several other alleged co-conspirators have been indicted by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York for allegedly defrauding people who donated money to the “We Build the Wall” campaign, an effort aimed at privately funding a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Bannon — who briefly served in Trump’s White House as chief strategist — along with Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato, and Timothy Shea, are accused of raising more than $25 million from donors to build the wall. However, rather than using that money to build the promised project, Bannon and the alleged co-conspirators are accused of secretly passing “hundreds of thousands” of dollars to Kolfage to fund his “lavish lifestyle.”
“The defendants allegedly engaged in fraud when they misrepresented the true use of donated funds. 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 Inspector-in-Charge Philip R. Bartlett.
Ever since Trump began his 2016 campaign for president, one of the key promises of his presidency has been that there would be a border wall between the United States and Mexico, and that Mexico would pay for it. However, it became evident, early in Trump’s presidency, that Mexico would not be paying for a border wall. Further attempts by Trump to secure funding for the wall from Congress were repeatedly thwarted.
Bannon and his co-conspirators allegedly capitalized on the fervent desire of some Americans to see that border wall built, and instead allegedly launched an effort to get the wall funded and built privately.
Beginning in 2018, prosecutors say, the suspects allegedly began a crowdfunding campaign that ultimately came to be called “We Build the Wall,” and they put Kolfage in charge. The men allegedly 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.”
However, Kolfage allegedly pocketed hundreds of thousands for himself, while Bannon similarly allegedly kept some of the money for himself. Further, Bannon and the other accused allegedly created a shell company to shuffle money and hide the transfers from donors.
Each of the men has been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
The full indictment against Bannon and the other men can be read here.