Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump‘s former White House chief strategist, has been federally charged along with three others in an indictment accusing the four of stealing funds from donors to the “We Build The Wall” campaign, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
Bannon is accused of taking at least $1 million and prosecutors also say the fundraising campaign “funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars” to Brian Kolfage, the founder of the campaign and one of the other people named in the indictment. The indictment accuses Bannon and Kolfage of taking at least a combined $1.35 million of the $25 million raised to crowdfund the border wall and accuses Timothy Shea and Andrew Badolato of helping to cover up the scheme.
They were arrested Thursday morning, August 20, according to the release. Bannon was arrested on a 150-foot yacht, the Lady May, off the coast of Connecticut, federal authorities told NBC News.
Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss, in the statement, called the “We Build The Wall” campaign a “scheme” to fund Kolfage’s “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. 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.
According to page 15 of the indictment, some of the items of that “lavish” lifestyle included “home renovations, payments toward a boat, luxury SUV, a golf cart, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, personal tax payments, and credit card debt” as well as a $20,000 monthly salary that Kolfage was taking.
What Is ‘We Build The Wall’?
The border wall, meant to prevent migrants and others from crossing the U.S.’s Southern border, was an important feature throughout Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, but the proposal has run into trouble since its inception.
Funding for it was blocked by Democrats in Congress. And although Trump declared a national emergency and diverted $2.5 billion from the military to build sections of the U.S., an appeals court declared that Trump was wrong to do so as recently as June 26, according to the Associated Press.
“We Build The Wall” was a campaign led by Brian Kolfage to pay for the border. It started as a GoFundMe page (which is no longer active) called “We The People Will Fund The Wall,” but it quickly evolved to host its own website.
The campaign, according to its website, is meant to allow private citizens to donate money to help pay for the wall’s construction:
Our mission is to unite private citizens that share a common belief in providing national security for our Southern Border through the construction, administration and maintenance of physical barriers inhibiting illegal entry into the United States. In interpreting the purpose of the Corporation, the Board of Directors and Members of the Advisory Board will consider the impact of a proposed structure on a selected site’s environment and construct barriers primarily designed to prevent illegal access to the United States, rather than cause catastrophic injury. We will focus on building portions of a U.S. Southern Border wall and manage the support operations required for, and the processes associated with, the design, engineering, construction, and maintenance of the wall.
In his call for donations, Kolfage wrote:
If every Trump supporter who voted in 2016 would donate $80 we could raise enough money to fund and build most of the entire US southern border wall. In a time of crisis Americans have always rallied to get the job done, we were never forced to rely on the US Government for anything until recent times. The time is now to stand up for your country with this small contribution. If we continue down this dangerous path our children and grandchildren will never recognize the country that so many Americans died for to protect the freedoms we have today. Let’s not be the generation who lost it all by doing nothing.
PLEASE STAND UP AND FIGHT WITH ME!
The campaign was being promoted by some on Twitter as recently as August 18 and the website remained up as of August 20 at 9 a.m Central time. However, the form was grayed out with a checkmark and a statement that read, “Inactive. This form is no longer available.”
Here Is What the Indictment Accuses Bannon, Kolfage, Badolato & Shea of Doing
Brian Kolfage, Steve Bannon, Andrew Badolato, and Timothy Shea, and others, orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors, including donors in the Southern District of New York, in connection with an online crowdfunding campaign ultimately known as “We Build The Wall” that raised more than $25 million to build a wall along the southern border of the United States.
The indictment alleges that at least two of the people named in the indictment, Bannon and Kolfage, took money that had been donated for the wall and used it for “personal expenses,” stating that Kolfage “covertly took for his personal use more than $350,000 in funds that donors had given to We Build The Wall” and that Bannon, “through a non-profit organization under his control … received over $1 million from We Build the Wall, at least some of which Bannon used to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in Bannon’s personal expenses.”
Some of the forfeited property named in the indictment includes money from multiple banks, a venture capital company called White Knights & Vultures, LLC. (which Andrew Badolato has been the director of since 2008, according to his website), a “2019 Jupiter Marine boat named ‘Warfighter'” and “a 2018 Land Rover Range Rover.”
The indictment further alleges that Shea helped cover up the scheme by routing payments through shell companies under his name, which Bandolato was aware of:
To conceal the payments to Kolfage from We Build the Wall, Kolfage, Bannon, Badolato, and Shea devised a scheme to route those payments from We Build the Wall to Kolfage indirectly through Non-Profit-1 and a shell company under Shea’s control, among other avenues. They did so by using fake invoices and sham “vendor” arrangements, among other ways …
The indictment alleges on page 16 that Kolfage told Badolato in a text message, “[a]s far as [the public] know[s] no one is getting paid” and “[s]alaries will never be disclosed.”
Each of the four has been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering; if convicted and given the maximum sentence, each of the four could face 40 years in prison.
Who Are the 4 Men Named in the Indictment?
Brian Kolfage Jr., a disabled Air Force veteran, is one of those named in the indictment. Kolfage was featured by the Gary Sinise Foundation, which aims to help disabled veterans. According to a video about him, he lost both of his legs and his right arm after a rocket exploded near him during his 2003 deployment in Iraq. He, his wife Ashley and the couple’s children live in a home converted for his use. He also ran a website (the Facebook business page for which was shut down) called Military Grade Coffee, claiming “10% of net profits will go to veterans and their families through the Gary Sinise Foundation.”
Steve Bannon is a former investment banker and the former executive chairman of Breitbart, a conservative website and “platform for the alt-right”, according to what Bannon reportedly told a Mother Jones journalist. Bannon briefly left Breitbart to work as a White House chief strategist, before returning when he was ousted by Trump in 2017. He then left Breitbart in January of 2018 after one of the site’s biggest financial patrons, “Ms. Mercer, whose family finances conservative causes with their hedge fund wealth, became concerned that she could face legal exposure,” according to The New York Times. He made a return to media, hosting a podcast called “War Room Impeachment,” was featured in an interview with Bill Maher and made headlines when he appeared at Roger Stone’s trial.
Timothy Shea runs an energy-drink company called Winning Energy that is supportive of Donald Trump; the website only has two products and a very sparse “About Us” section. Shea, a Castle Rock man, and his wife, Amanda, had previously started a GoFundMe account called “Fight 4 Free Speech,” which is now inactive along with its Twitter account.
According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Badolato has been associated with Bannon since 2003 despite having a colorful background. The Herald-Tribune described his past as one littered with lawsuits, IRS liens filed against him, business deals he has made with people previously convicted of felonious stock-related fraud, association with an alleged money-laundering Costa Rican business and multiple sexual assault allegations. His website describes him as, “a full time single father that raised 3 sons and now has two grandsons, investment contrarian, classical liberal political persuasion, new lease on life after suffering a major heart attack in Dec 2014 and being brought back to life.”
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