Steve Bannon, a former advisor of United States President Donald Trump was arrested on Thursday on charges of fraud relating to the ‘We Build The Wall’-crowdfunding initiative from 2018.
We Build The Wall aimed to build segments of a physical wall on private land at the United States-Mexican border to prevent immigration, inspired by one of Trump’s famous 2016 campaign promises. The project is estimated to have amassed €21 million ($25 million) from the American public, of which Bannon and three others received hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Bannon reportedly received more than €844,000 ($1 million), most of which he spent on personal expenses according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Aside from Bannon, Brian Kolfage (the founder of the campaign), Andrew Badolato (a self-described successful entrepreneur), and Timothy Shea (prosecutor with the Drug Enforcement Agency or DEA) were also arrested. Kolfage reportedly received €295,555 ($350,000).
“As alleged, the defendants defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalising on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretence that all of that money would be spent on construction,” U.S. attorney Audrey Strauss stated.
“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.”
Inspector-in-charge Philip Bartlett added that the accused created “sham invoices” and held false bank accounts “to launder donations and cover up their crimes.”
Bannon functioned as the White House chief political strategist during Trump’s first seven months in office, starting in 2017. After his resignation – though some say it was closer to excommunication – Bannon turned on Trump and began heavily criticising him while temporarily resuming his work at American news service Breitbart.
The Brussels Times