New York federal prosecutors on Thursday charged President Donald Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon and three others with defrauding donors of many thousands of dollars as a part of a fundraising campaign purportedly aimed toward supporting Trump’s border wall.
Bannon, 66, was arrested at 7:30 a.m. Thursday near Westbrook, Connecticut, on the yacht of exiled Chinese dissident Guo Wengui, consistent with two enforcement officials. Federal agents, officials from us Postal Inspection Service and therefore us Coast Guard, assisted, officials said.
During an initial court appearance in NY later Thursday, Bannon pleaded acquitted and was set to be released on bail including a $5 million bond to be secured by $1.75 million in cash or real estate. As a part of his bail conditions, he is going to be prohibited from travel on private airplanes, yachts, or boats without permission from the court.
Appearing via video conference, Bannon sported a white mask, a button-down shirt, and a sunburn. As he exited the federal courthouse, Bannon removed his mask and waved at supporters before confronting a gaggle of reporters.
“This entire fiasco is to prevent people that want to create the wall,” Bannon said.
The four men were indicted for allegedly using many thousands of dollars donated to a web crowdfunding campaign called We Build the Wall for private expenses, among other things. Bannon and another defendant, Brian Kolfage, promised donors that the campaign, which ultimately raised quite $25 million, was “a volunteer organization” which “100% of the funds raised…will be utilized in the execution of our mission and purpose,” consistent with the indictment unsealed Thursday.
But instead, consistent with prosecutors, Bannon, through a non-profit under his control, used quite $1 million from We Build the Wall to “secretly” pay Kolfage and canopy many thousands of dollars in Bannon’s personal expenses.
Kolfage, consistent with the fees, spent quite $350,000 of the donations on personal expenses, including facelift, a luxury SUV, a golf cart, payments toward a ship, home renovations, jewelry, personal tax payments, and Mastercard debit. Bannon, Kolfage, and therefore the other two defendants, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit concealment.
Kolfage, Badolato, and Shea didn’t immediately answer requests for comment Thursday.
“As alleged, the defendants defrauded many thousands of donors, capitalizing on their interest in funding a border wall to boost many dollars, under the false pretense that each one of that cash would be spent on construction,” Acting Manhattan US Attorney Audrey Strauss said during a statement. “While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, wouldn’t be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass many thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he wont to fund his lavish lifestyle.”
The indictment describes a sleight-of-hand perpetrated by the defendants on donors to the We Build the Wall group. Within days of launching the group, Kolfage, alongside Bannon and Badolato, made a “secret agreement” during which Kolfage would be paid “$100k upfront [and] then 20 [per] month,” consistent with the indictment. To disguise the transfer of the cash to Kolfage, Bannon agreed to pass the payments through the non-profit he controlled, consistent with prosecutors, and in February 2019, Bannon and Badolato directed the non-profit to pay Kolfage $100,000 from We Build the Wall.
Trump: ‘I feel very badly’
Speaking at the White House within the hours after Bannon’s arrest, Trump said he felt “very badly.”
“Well, I feel very badly. I have never been handling him for an extended period of your time,” Trump said, noting that he was “involved in our campaign” and “for a little a part of the administration very early .” Bannon served within the Trump administration from the inauguration through August 2017.
As for the border wall fundraising project, Trump claimed he knew “nothing” about it and didn’t know the people involved it, albeit other key allies are on its board.
“I ignoramus about the project aside from I didn’t like once I examine it. I didn’t love it. I said this is often for the state , this is not for personal people, and it sounded to me like showboating and that I think I let my opinion be very strongly stated at the time: I didn’t love it, it had been showboating and perhaps trying to find funds, but you will have to ascertain what happens. I feel it is a very sad thing for Mr. Bannon,” he said.
In February, CNN reported that We Build the Wall had communicated with the administration on plans to create a wall along the southern border and donate it to the United States government.
Source: cnn news