On Thursday, federal prosecutors unsealed criminal charges against Steve Bannon, a former advisor to President Trump, along with three other men alleging that they “orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors, including donors in the Southern District of New York.” The men are being accused of using a crowdfunding campaign that was ostensibly intended to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
The indictment claims that Bannon and disabled Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage raised over $25 million through the “We Build The Wall” campaign through fraudulent means. It alleges that Bannon and Kolfage “repeatedly and falsely assured the public 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.’”
According to the documents, all four men “collectively received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds from We Build the Wall, which they each used in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s public representations.” Kolfage is accused of “covertly” taking more than $350,000 from the campaign for his “personal use.”
Bannon is accused of taking over $1 million from the campaign, which he allegedly used to “secretly pay Kolfage” and to “cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in Bannon’s personal expenses.” The scheme involved funneling payments from the We Build the Wall campaign to Kolfage through a shell company controlled by Timothy Shea, one of the men being indicted.
The indictment explained that the men solicited money from donors under false pretenses, earning their trust through deception. “Some of those donors wrote directly to Kolfage that they did not have a lot of money and were skeptical about online fundraising campaigns, but they were giving what they could because they trusted Kolfage would keep his word about how their donations would be spent,” the document read.
According to the indictment, the money was given to Kolfage through fake invoices and false “vendor” arrangements. This was done to conceal the fact that the veteran was being paid a salary despite telling donors that he was not receiving a penny.
The four men were arrested by U.S. Postal Service agents on Thursday and are expected to appear in court later in the day. Prosecutors are charging them with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering.
This case is not the first controversy in which Kolfage has been involved. He was also suspected of leading another crowdfunding campaign that was ostensibly intended to raise money for veterans at military hospitals. But the spokesperson for the medical facilities stated that they had no record of his campaign donating money.
President Trump chimed in on the matter, telling reporters that he hasn’t “been dealing with him for a very long period of time.” He also indicated that he disliked the private campaign to fund the wall, stating that “it was being done for showboating reasons.”
Inspector-in-Charge Philip R. Bartlett said, “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.” If convicted, the men face a maximum of 20 years in federal prison.
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