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What’s happening with Steve Bannon? A cautionary tale for viral crowdfunding campaigns

Bannon and his coconspirators allegedly siphoned hundreds of thousands of dollars from a fundraising campaign to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

What’s happening with Steve Bannon? A cautionary tale for viral crowdfunding campaigns
[Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images]
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Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has been arrested and charged with defrauding hundreds of thousands of dollars from a fundraising campaign to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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The campaign—called “We Build the Wall”—was founded on the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe by U.S. Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage in December 2018, and was morphed into a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization in January 2019. Kolfage began the campaign during a stalemate on Capitol Hill over government spending, after Trump demanded billions in funding for his proposed border wall. “We Build the Wall” quickly raked in $25 million from donors, all of which it promised to put toward construction for the wall.

But instead, Kolfage and Bannon are among four coconspirators charged with funneling money from the nonprofit into their own pockets. According to the indictment, unsealed in the Southern District of New York on Thursday, Bannon siphoned more than $1 million from “We Build the Wall,” “at least some of which [he] used to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in [his] personal expenses.” Kolfage took “more than $350,000 in funds.”

The indictment alleges that the funds were used “for a variety of personal expenses, including, among other things, travel, hotel, consumer goods and personal credit card debts,” and the defendants concealed their scheme “by using fake invoices and sham ‘vendor’ arrangements, among other ways.” According to U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss, Kolfage used his share to underwrite his “lavish lifestyle”—which per the indictment, included “home renovations, payments toward a boat, a luxury SUV, a golf cart, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, personal tax payments and credit card debt.”

“Kolfage repeatedly and falsely assured the public that he would ‘not take a penny in salary or compensation’ and that ‘100% of the funds raised . . . will be used in the execution of our mission and purpose’ because, as Bannon publicly stated, ‘we’re a volunteer organization,'” read the indictment.

“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,” inspector-in-charge Philip R. Bartlett said in a statement.

We reached out to We Build the Wall for comment and will update this post if we hear back.

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Bannon’s arrest makes him the sixth member of the 2016 Trump campaign’s senior staff to face federal criminal charges, as he joins the ranks of Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone.