Federal prosecutors in New York on Thursday unsealed criminal charges against Stephen K. BannonSteve Bannon, Mexico, WallPresident Trump’s former chief strategist, and three other men they alleged defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors using an online crowdfunding campaign that was advertised as raising money to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
In a news release, prosecutors said Bannon and another organizer of the campaign, Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage, claimed they would not take any compensation as part of the campaign, called “We Build The Wall,” but that was a lie. Bannon, prosecutors alleged, received more than $1 million through a nonprofit he controlled, sending hundreds of thousands out to Kolfage while keeping a “substantial portion” for himself.
The campaign raised more than $25 million in total, the news release states.
Prosecutors alleged that Bannon and Kolfage along with two others — Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea — routed payments from the crowdfunding campaign through the nonprofit and another shell company and disguised them with fake invoices to help keep their personal pay secret. All four were arrested Thursday and are expected to make court appearances later in the day. They are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering.
A law enforcement official said Attorney General William P. Barr was briefed about the matter in advance.
Bannon, 66, served on Trump’s presidential campaign and then as the White House’s chief strategist. He was ousted in the summer of 2017 amid what appeared to be a major falling out with Trump. A lawyer for Bannon did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Bannon had told associates he was on a boat all summer off the U.S. coast but has stayed connected to the president’s orbit, talking to Trump allies and offering campaign advice even though he no longer holds an official position in the president’s organization. Until earlier this year, he hosted a show with Trump campaign strategist Jason Miller that the president sometimes listened to.
A White House spokeswoman said, “This is not a White House matter” and referred questions to the Justice Department.
“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 announcing the case. “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.”
Kolfage, 38, of Miramar Beach, Fla., is a military veteran who, in 2004, was severely injured in a rocket attack while he was stationed in Baghdad. According to the “We Build The Wall” website, he lost both of his legs and his right arm instantly, and was in a coma for three weeks. He would later go on to take a civilian role in the Air Force, work on a veterans advisory committee for then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and found a coffee company.