This is turning out to be a good day.
Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon was arrested Thursday on charges that he and three others ripped off donors to an online fundraising effort to build a southern border wall, making him the latest in a long list of Trump associates to be indicted or charged. The AP reports, Ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon charged in border wall scheme:
The “We Build The Wall” fundraiser was headed by men who pushed their close ties to President Trump and raised more than $25 million. They touted their effort to help the president realize his vision of a “big beautiful” wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, especially after Trump’s effort to redirect millions in government funds, was held up through lawsuits.
But according to the criminal charges unsealed Thursday, little of the wall was actually constructed. Instead, the money lined the pockets of some of those involved. Bannon, who served in Trump’s 2016 campaign and the White House, received over $1 million himself, using some to secretly pay co-defendant Brian Kolfage, the founder of the project, and to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars of Bannon’s personal expenses, in a money laundering scheme according to the Department of Justice press release.
According to the indictment (Scribd), Bannon promised that 100% of the donated money would be used for the project, but the defendants collectively used it in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s public representations.
They faked invoices and created sham “vendor” arrangements, among other ways, to hide what was really happening, according to the indictment. “All money donated to the ‘We Build the Wall’ campaign goes directly to wall!!! Not anyone’s pocket,” the lawsuit said.
Bannon is among numerous former Trump associates who have found themselves under indictment or in jail, including his former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, and his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
“I hire all the best people.” It’s like a damn convention of wise guys.
An immigration plan unveiled by Trump last year included a proposal to allow public donations to pay for his long-promised southern border wall. At that point, the GoFundMe campaign launched by war veteran Brian Kolfage had raised more than $20 million for wall construction.
But Trump later denounced the project publicly, tweeting last month that he “disagreed with doing this very small (tiny) section of wall, in a tricky area, by a private group which raised money by ads. It was only done to make me look bad, and perhaps it now doesn’t even work. Should have been built like rest of Wall, 500 plus miles,” he said.
Trump on Thursday told reporters that he knew nothing about the project – he always denies knowing anyone after they are arrested – and never believed in a privately financed barrier.
“I thought that was a project being done for showboating reasons,” he said.
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The defendants learned last October from a financial institution that the wall-building campaign might be under federal criminal investigation and took additional steps to conceal the fraud, according to the indictment.
Charges included conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Kolfage did not return a call seeking comment[.]
A phone at the office of Bannon’s lawyer went unanswered Thursday morning. Bannon and his spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It was not immediately clear who would represent Kolfage at an initial court appearance, and his phone was unanswered.
The indictment said Kolfage “went so far as to send mass emails to his donors asking them to purchase coffee from his unrelated business, telling donors that the coffee company was the only way he ‘keeps his family fed and a roof over their head.’”
Some donors wrote directly to Kolfage saying they did not have a lot of money and were skeptical of online fundraising campaigns, the indictment said. It added that Kolfage would reassure the donors that nobody was being compensated.
In fact, the indictment said, an arrangement had been made among Bannon and his co-defendants to pay Kolfage $100,000 up front and an additional $20,000 monthly.
Kolfage eventually spent some of the over $350,000 he received on home renovations, payments toward a boat, a luxury SUV, a golf cart, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, personal tax payments and credit card debt.
Law and Crime adds:
Kolfage, 38, of Miramar Beach, Fla., and Bannon, 66, of Washington, D.C., are joined by co-defendants Andrew Badolato, 56, of Sarasota, Fla., and Timothy Shea, 49, of Castle Rock, Colo. They are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. More than one person online has noted that Shea shares a name with the DEA’s acting administrator (who was once a D.C. federal prosecutor), but the DOJ describes the defendant Shea separately as above.
Trump’s criminal enterprise is going down one wise guy at a time.