Former Trump campaign chief and one-time White House adviser Steve Bannon was arrested Thursday and charged with two conspiracy counts to commit fraud and money laundering, the Department of Justice announced. The allegations against Bannon and three others pertain to the operation of the online crowdfunding campaign “We Build the Wall,” which pledged to use individuals’ donations to help privately fund the construction of a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. The organization is a real who’s who of the Trump grift: In addition to Bannon, its board includes voter fraud conspiracy theorist Kris Kobach, private war profiteer Erik Prince, “Sheriff” David Alexander Clarke Jr., and pitcher Curt Schilling. The site is also plastered with images and quotes from the Trump family.
The DOJ says the Florida-registered 501(c) non-profit tax-exempt advocacy organization raised more than $25 million from hundreds of thousands of individual donors to finance private border wall construction, but then endeavored to route more than $1 million for personal use by Bannon and founder Brian Kolfage by setting up what was essentially a slush fund to cover lavish personal expenses with donated money. The 38-year-old Kolfage had repeatedly stressed to donors that he did not take any money from the project, saying during numerous media appearances and emails to donors: “I won’t take a penny from these donations. … We have an advisory committee. … I can’t touch that money. We have bylaws set up.” One of the advisers on that committee was Steve Bannon, who, the indictment says, immediately stepped in and, along with venture capitalist Andrew Badolato, asserted operational control of the organization after it raised more than $17 million in its first week. “I did this kind of as a volunteer,” Bannon said. “We’re a volunteer organization.”
The volunteer grift was a lucrative one, however, and soon money was being routed through various entities to disguise hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments. To account for the self-dealing, which Bannon and Kolfage used on lavish personal expenses, the pair devised a scheme, along with co-conspirators Badolato and Timothy Shea, to route the money through a nonprofit controlled by Bannon and a shell company using “fake invoices and sham ‘vendor’ arrangements” to cover their tracks, according to the indictment.
Each of the co-conspirators is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, each carrying a potential sentence of 20 years in prison.
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