Steve Bannon, former chief strategist for President Donald Trump, was arrested Thursday and charged with defrauding donors who contributed to a fund that claimed to be for the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, CNBC reported.
Bannon, along with acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration Timothy Shea, Iraq war veteran Brian Kolfage, and Andrew Badolato were indicted by investigators in the U.S. Southern District of New York.
The indictment alleges that Bannon and the others defrauded donors who gave to the “We Build the Wall” fund, which collected more than $25 million in total. According to the fund’s website, 500,000 people donated to the cause.
A Justice Department news release alleges that hundreds of thousands of dollars of the funds collected for border wall construction were funneled to Kolfage, and Bannon directed more than a million to himself through his nonprofit organization, and used hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover personal expenses.
“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,” the news release states. “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. We thank the USPIS for their partnership in investigating this case, and we remain dedicated to rooting out and prosecuting fraud wherever we find it.”
The four men have been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
The fund billed itself as an initiative to build President Trump’s promised border wall on private property.
“If you are sick and tired of watching politicians in both parties obstructing President Trump’s plan to build a wall on our southern border, then you have come to the right place,” the website reads. “We the People are coming together to build segments of border wall on private property and the best part is, we’re going to do it for a fraction of what it costs the government.”
CNN reported that Bannon’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.