TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - President Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and University of Arizona graduate and We Build The Wall founder, Brian Kolfage are facing federal charges.
The men, along with two other defendants, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, are accused of defrauding donors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars as part of a fundraising campaign aimed at supporting President Trump’s border wall.
Federal officials arrested the men today who allegedly 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.
Kolfage was injured in his second deployment in Iraq in 2014 when an insurgent attack cost him his legs and most of his right arm.
He was awarded a Purple Heart and assigned to Davis Monthan Air Force Base as a security manager.
He joined Gabby Gifford’s Veterans Advisory Committee and graduated from the University of Arizona in 2014.
In 2018, Kolfage founded We Build the Wall, a nonprofit dedicated to building private sections of the border wall along the US-Mexico border.
According to the indictment, he continuously promised to donors he would never take a penny, but secretly reached an agreement with the defendants to be covertly paid $100,000 upfront and then $20,000 a month.
The indictment said in total, Kolfage received $350,000 in donor funds that he used to pay for cosmetic surgery, home renovations, payments toward a boat, a luxury SUV, a golf cart, jewelry and more.
Bannon, who according to the indictment, publicly said, “We are a volunteer organization,” also took hundreds of thousands of dollars from the nonprofit for personal expenses.
“I feel very badly. I haven’t been dealing with him for a very long period of time. I don’t know anything about the project at all,” said President Trump when asked about the arrests today.
“It was showboating and maybe looking for funds, but you’ll have to see what happens. I think it’s a very sad thing for Mr. Bannon,” President Trump said.
The inspector-in-charge Philip R. Bartlett said in part, “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.”
Just days ago, Kolfage tweeted, “We are are funding the class action lawsuit against Black Lives Matter, the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL for all victims of their racist attacks.”
He sent his followers to a GoFundMe called BLMHate.
GoFundMe deleted that account, so on Wednesday, August 19, Kolfage responded in a tweet saying, “We Build the Wall has officially deleted the largest GoFundMe campaign ever from the GFM platform. We will not give them another penny after raising $27 million. We are taking our business to RundRazr where censorship doesn’t happen.”
A day before the indictment was unsealed, Kolfage was a featured guest on Bannon’s pro-Trump podcast called “War Room” where he solicited donations.
Now, the money from We Build the Wall along with a boat, Range Rover and more will have to be forfeited to the court.
The men are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Hours after his arrest, Bannon appeared before a federal judge in New York via video, wearing a white face mask. He pleaded not guilty on wire fraud and money laundering charges.
The federal judge approved Bannon’s release on $5 million bail and $1.7 in assets.
He must surrender all travel documents including his passport and cannot use private planes, private yachts or boats.