Former Trump adviser Steven Bannon —along with three other men — have been charged with defrauding donors of hundreds of thousands of dollars as part of a fundraising campaign purportedly aimed at supporting Trump’s border wall.
According to the indictment, Bannon and another defendant, Brian Kolfage, promised donors that the campaign, which ultimately raised more than $25 million, was “a volunteer organization” and that “100% of the funds raised…will be used in the execution of our mission and purpose,” according to the indictment unsealed Thursday.
But instead, according to prosecutors, Bannon, through a non-profit under his control, used more than $1 million from We Build the Wall to “secretly” pay Kolfage and cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in Bannon’s personal expenses. And Kolfage, according to the charges, used more than $350,000 of the donations for his personal use.
The indictment describes a slight-of-hand perpetrated by the defendants on donors to the We Build the Wall group.
Within days of launching the group, Kolfage, along with Bannon and Badolato, made a “secret agreement” in which Kolfage would be paid “$100k upfront [and] then 20 [per] month,” according to the indictment. To disguise the transfer of the money to Kolfage, Bannon agreed to pass the payments through a non-profit he controlled, according to prosecutors, and in February 2019, Bannon and Badolato directed the non-profit to pay Kolfage $100,000 from We Build the Wall.
In February, CNN reported that We Build the Wall had communicated with the administration on plans to build a wall along the southern border and donate it to the US government.
We Build the Wall controversy: We Build the Wall Inc., a group founded by Air Force veteran Kolfage, gained national attention after raising millions of dollars in a GoFundMe campaign, and launching two private wall projects in New Mexico and Texas. Those projects were constructed on private land — a strategy that largely shielded them from government intervention.
Kolfage has come under scrutiny for his inflammatory rhetoric and promises. In the past, he’s been accused by some of his donors as overpromising and underdelivering. Other allegations against him include being clandestine in his operations and unwilling to disclose certain logistics. He often uses his Twitter account to spar with or confront liberal critics. In the past, Kolfage has defended himself against criticism.
He previously told CNN that his group is a “game-changer for border security” and is “trying to make America safer.”