Steve Bannon and three others charged with wire fraud and money laundering, charges stem from “We Build The Wall” GoFundMe campaign


Gage Skidmore (Flickr)

Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.

Ivana Venema-Nunez, Reporter

Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House chief strategist and past executive chairman of Breitbart News has pleaded not guilty to wire fraud and money laundering charges relating to an online public fundraiser ad on the website GoFundMe.  The ad raised more than $25 million meant for construction of the wall at the southern border of the United States.

According to a CBS article, Bannon and three others, Andrew Badolato, Brian Kolfage and Timothy Shea were charged and arrested on Thursday morning.

Bannon was taken into custody by agents from the U.S. Postal Service off the coast of Connecticut on a 152-foot yacht registered to exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, law enforcement said.  Guo had reportedly hired Bannon under a one-year, $1 million contract for consulting services starting in August 2018.

The online crowdfunding campaign called “We Build The Wall” was claiming that donations would be used to build portions of the wall and support maintenance operations. 

Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York said that the defendants defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors making financial gains from their donor’s interest in funding a border wall under the false pretense that all of the money would be spent on construction, according to an NPR article.

“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 arranged to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle,” Strauss said.

Federal prosecutors state the four men routed money through a nonprofit that Bannon controlled and a shell company run by Shea where the men concealed the money using fake invoices and vendor arrangements to make sure the plan remained confidential.

Days after the fundraising campaign launched, the indictment claims that Kolfage was to be secretly paid $100,000 upfront and then $20,000 per month.

Federal prosecutors found that Kolfage received the initial payment, and in the beginning of April 2019, he received additional regular payments through other third-party entities listed as vendors for “We Build the Wall”.

The indictment states Kolfage received more than $350,000 from the donated money, which he then used to pay for “home renovations, payments toward a boat, a luxury SUV, a golf cart, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, personal tax payments and credit card debt.”

Bannon is alleged to have received more than $1 million from the campaign via the nonprofit the men funneled the  donations through. 

“At least some of it was used to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in [his] personal expenses,” the indictment claims.

When the men learned “We Build the Wall” was under federal criminal investigation in October 2019 they took additional steps to conceal the fraudulent scheme,” according to the indictment. 

Bannon was a top advisor to the Trump campaign in 2016 and went on to serve as White House chief strategist once Trump took office.  He is among five other men with key roles or close ties to Trump’s campaign who have faced federal charges, according to NPR.

Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman; Rick Gates, who served as the campaign’s deputy chairman; Michael Flynn, a campaign adviser who went on to serve as Trump’s first national security adviser; Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser; and Michael Cohen, his former attorney and fixer are the others.

President Trump has distanced himself from Bannon, who left the White House in 2017. 

According to NPR, Trump said he felt “very badly,” but claims he has not dealt with Bannon “for a very long period of time.” 

“I don’t like that project,” Trump said. “I thought it was being done for showboating reasons.”