(CNS News) -- Former Counselor to the President Steve Bannon -- who was fired by President Trump in August 2017 -- was charged today, along with three other people, for allegedly defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors through an "online crowdfunding campaign known as 'We Build the Wall' that raised more than $25 million," said the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York in a press release.
The four men were arrested this morning. In addition to Bannon, the persons arrested are Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato, and Timothy Shea.
“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," said Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss.
"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," said Strauss. " We thank the USPIS [U.S. Postal Inspection Service] for their partnership in investigating this case, and we remain dedicated to rooting out and prosecuting fraud wherever we find it.”
The attorney's office for the Southern District of New York made clear that the "charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty."
Inspector-in-Charge Philip R. Bartlett said, “The defendants allegedly engaged in fraud when they misrepresented the true use of donated funds. As alleged, not only did they lie to donors, they schemed to hide their misappropriation of funds by creating sham invoices and accounts to launder donations and cover up their crimes, showing no regard for the law or the truth."
"This case should serve as a warning to other fraudsters that no one is above the law, not even a disabled war veteran or a millionaire political strategist," said Bartlett.
The indictment states that in December 2018, the four defendants "orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors, including donors in the Southern District of New York, in connection with an online crowdfunding campaign ultimately known as “We Build The Wall” that raised more than $25 million to build a wall along the southern border of the United States."
"In particular, to induce donors to donate to the campaign, [BRIAN] KOLFAGE repeatedly and falsely assured the public that he would 'not take a penny in salary or compensation,'" reads the indictment, "and that '100% of the funds raised . . . will be used in the execution of our mission and purpose' because, as [STEVE] BANNON publicly stated, 'we’re a volunteer organization.'"
"Those representations were false," states the indictment. "In truth, KOLFAGE, BANNON, BADOLATO, and SHEA received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds from We Build the Wall, which they each used in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s public representations."
"In particular, KOLFAGE covertly took for his personal use more than $350,000 in funds that donors had given to We Build the Wall, while BANNON, through a non-profit organization under his control (“Non-Profit-1”), received over $1 million from We Build the Wall, at least some of which BANNON used to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in BANNON’s personal expenses," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"To conceal the payments to KOLFAGE from We Build the Wall, KOLFAGE, BANNON, BADOLATO, and SHEA devised a scheme to route those payments from We Build the Wall to KOLFAGE indirectly through Non-Profit-1 and a shell company under SHEA’s control, among other avenues," continues the indictment. "They did so by using fake invoices and sham 'vendor' arrangements, among other ways, to ensure, as KOLFAGE noted in a text message to BADOLATO, that his pay arrangement remained 'confidential' and kept on a 'need to know' basis."
The four defendants, Kolfage, 38, Bannon, 66, Badolato, 56, and Shea, 49 "are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison," reads the press release.
Bannon served at the White House from Jan. 20, 2017 to Aug. 18, 2017.
In a statement on Aug. 18, 2017, then-White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day."
The New York Times reported that same day, "Mr. Trump had recently grown weary of Mr. Bannon, complaining to other advisers that he believed his chief strategist had been leaking information to reporters and was taking too much credit for the president’s successes. The situation had become untenable long before Friday, according to advisers close to Mr. Trump who had been urging the president to remove Mr. Bannon; in turn, people close to Mr. Bannon also were urging him to step down."