Steve Bannon Arrested for Allegedly Defrauding People with Border Wall Crowdfunding Campaign

Former senior White House adviser Steve Bannon was arrested on Thursday morning on accusations he defrauded people who donated money to build a wall on the U.S./Mexico border.

According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bannon and three other people — Brian Kolfage, Timothy Shea, and Andrew Badolato — "orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors…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."

Bannon, Kolfage, Shea and Badolato are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The indictment alleges Bannon misled people by claiming that 100 percent of the donated money would be used for the project. According to federal prosecutors, the defendants misused several hundred thousands of dollars to enrich themselves.

"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," Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in the statement.

"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," Strauss continued.

The indictment alleges that they faked invoices and sham "vendor" arrangements to hide where the money was actually going.

Added Inspector-in-Charge Philip R. Bartlett:  “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."

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Within a week of Kolfage's launching the campaign in December 2018, they raised roughly $17 million, prosecutors allege. That's when Bannon created the nonprofit We Build the Wall Inc.

According to the indictment, Kolfage, Bannon, and Badolato learned in the Fall of 2019 that the endeavor was under federal investigation.

Prosecutors allege that they "took additional steps to conceal the fraudulent scheme," including using encrypted messaging, stopping Kolfage's salary payments, and removing text from their website claiming that Kolfage would not be compensated.

Bannon worked in right-wing media before being tapped to serve as chief executive officer of President Trump's 2016 campaign. After the election, he served as chief strategist during the first few months of  Trump’s administration before being fired in August 2017.

Bannon has not yet entered a plea. Alexandra Preate, a representative for Bannon, and Bill Burck, a lawyer for him, did not immediately return calls or emails from PEOPLE seeking comment.

Attorney information for the other defendants wasn't immediately available.

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