The former adviser to President Trump, Steve Bannon, was one of four suspects who have been apprehended and indicted in connection with an online fundraising campaign that allegedly defrauded donors of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Justice Department announced.
According to Fox News, the indictment detailed that Bannon and co-defendant Brian Kolfage told the public that they were a “volunteer organization.”
In addition to that, they allegedly claimed that 100% of the money raised would go toward their stated goal, which was to raise money for the federal government to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Those representations were false,” the indictment said.
Prosecutors claim that Kolfage, Bannon, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea took money for themselves as the campaign raised more than of $25 million.
Prosecutors also say 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.”
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.
“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,” Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement.
“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.”
Bannon and the other defendants were each charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
If charged, they each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
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The indictment alleges that Bannon received more than $1 million through a nonprofit that he then used for personal expenses and to pay Kolfage.
The campaign’s website said that all of the money raised would go to the government for building the wall, and that if they did not meet their fundraising target, they would “refund every single penny,” according to the indictment.
When Kolfage, Bannon, and Badolato learned in the fall of 2019 that the endeavor was under federal investigation, they allegedly “took additional steps to conceal the fraudulent scheme,” the indictment said. This allegedly included using encrypted messaging applications, putting a stop to Kolfage’s salary payments, and removing text from the website saying that Kolfage would not be compensated while adding a notification that he would begin collecting a salary in January 2020.