MAGA Operatives Caught Ridin’ Dirty: Steve Bannon, Others Charged In $25M ‘We Build The Wall’ Scam

MAGA Operatives Caught Ridin’ Dirty: Steve Bannon, Others Charged In $25M ‘We Build The Wall’ Scam

Build The Wall
MAGA operatives caught ridin’ dirty: Steve Bannon, others charged in $25M ‘Build The Wall’ GoFundMe Scam. As of Aug. 20, Trump Jr. is still soliciting donations for the fundraising campaign. Former White House strategist Steve Bannon speaks to reporters after testifying in the federal trial of Roger Stone at federal court in Washington, Nov. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Al Drago)

Stephen K. Bannon, widely considered the architect of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, was arrested today and charged with fraud along with three other men for his role in a private online fundraising effort to build the president’s much-hyped wall at the Mexico border.

As of noon on Aug. 20, high-ranking MAGA operatives were still soliciting donations on the “We Build The Wall” fundraising campaign website. These include Donald Trump, Jr.; his girlfriend and top Trump fundraiser Kimberly Guilfoyle; former Trump campaign manager and lobbyist Corey Lewandowski; Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert Jr. and Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, labor representative of 16,000 border patrol agents.

However, White House spokesperson Alyssa Farah referred questions on the indictments to the Department of Justice, saying it is “not a White House matter,” Fox reported.

One of Trump’s campaign promises in 2015 was that he would build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Mexico wasn’t willing to pay for it, but apparently, 500,000 U.S. citizens were. They raised more than $25 million and helped enrich the fundraisers.

“We Build the Wall” started as a GoFundMe campaign in 2018 by U.S. Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage to raise donations to build private sections of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

It collected more than $25 million for the president’s plan to build the wall.

Bannon and three other men — two from Florida — “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,” Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said in statement Thursday.

Also arrested along with Bannon are Kolfage, 38, from Miramar Beach, Fla.; Andrew Badolato, 56, a financier from Sarasota, Fla.; and Timothy Shea, 49, of Castle Rock, Colo., New York Times reported.

Bannon was arrested early Thursday in Connecticut by U.S. postal inspectors and taken to Manhattan where he is expected to appear before a U.S. magistrate judge later today.

Founder Kolfage promised donors that he would “not take a penny in salary or compensation” and that all of the money he raised would be used “in the execution of our mission and purpose,” according to prosecutors.

Instead, prosecutors said, Kolfage secretly took more than $350,000 in donations for his own personal use. Bannon, Trump’s former top adviser, received more than $1 million from “We Build the Wall” and he used some of it to pay off hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal expenses.

To hide the illegal flow of money, prosecutors said, the four men routed payments from “We Build the Wall” through Bannon’s nonprofit group and through a shell company controlled by Shea.

According to the indictment, Bannon and co-defendant Kolfage told the public that they were a “volunteer organization” and that 100 percent of the money raised would go toward their stated goal — raising money for the federal government to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Bannon and the others used the nonprofit and a shell company to hide the payments to Kolfage “by using fake invoices and sham ‘vendor’ arrangements,” along with other ways of keeping the payments quiet. The indictment stated that in order to raise funds, Kolfage and Bannon “repeatedly and falsely” told the public that Kolfage would “not take a penny” in compensation, Fox News reported.

Kolfage had payments made out to his spouse, and this was reflected in a 1099 form the nonprofit issued, saying the payment was for “media.”

The campaign website promised they would “refund every single penny” if they did not meet their fundraising target, according to the indictment.

The campaign raised $17 million within a week of its December 2018 launch, prosecutors said. Concerned about where the money was going, the crowdfunding platform told Kolfage to identify a nonprofit that the money would go to or the funds would be returned. That’s when Bannon and Badolato created the nonprofit We Build the Wall Inc.

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When Kolfage, Bannon, and Badolato learned in the fall of 2019 that they were under federal investigation, they allegedly “took additional steps to conceal the fraudulent scheme,” the indictment said. This allegedly included using encrypted messaging apps, stopping Kolfage’s salary payments, removing from the site the part that said he would not be compensated, and adding that he would begin collecting a salary in January 2020.

“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,” Strauss said.

All the defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.