We Build the Wall: How Steve Bannon spent $25M on ‘boat, luxury SUV, jewelry’ in crowdfunding scam that shook US

Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and three others are accused of defrauding donors to line their pockets with hundreds of thousands of dollars raised via a crowdfunding campaign

                            We Build the Wall: How Steve Bannon spent $25M on ‘boat, luxury SUV, jewelry’ in crowdfunding scam that shook US
Steve Bannon (Getty Images)

Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon was taken into custody on Thursday, August 20 after federal prosecutors in New York charged him with fraud. As we previously reported, Bannon and three others are accused of defrauding donors to line their pockets with hundreds of thousands of dollars raised via a crowdfunding campaign called 'We Build the Wall' that raised over $25 million.

Apart from Bannon, as reported by the New York Times, Brian Kolfage, an Iraq War veteran and motivational speaker, had created a series of pro-Trump websites using fake stories for clickbait and ads. Then there was Timothy Shea who marketed and sold a Trump-themed energy drink as containing “liberal tears.” The third one was Andrew Badolato with a history of failed businesses, unpaid tax bills, and sexual misconduct allegations.

As per the report, these men came together, along with influential people including Bannon, to start the project of president Donald Trump’s promised border. According to the report, the four men pitched 'We Build the Wall' as border security and to construct at least 100 miles of barriers. However, as the federal indictment was unsealed on August 20, it was revealed that they had cheated donors, and treated the raised more than $25 million as a private fund, as per the report. The indictment stated that Bannon raked in over $1 million from the scheme "and at least some of it was used to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in [his] personal expenses." Kolfage got about $350,000 which was spent on “home renovations, payments toward a boat, a luxury S.U.V., a golf cart, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, personal tax payments and credit card debt,” the indictment claimed, according to the report. The others collected hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal expenses, prosecutors said. It is reported that  Bannon has pleaded not guilty in the case.

According to the report, Trump supporters were on the board of 'We Build the Wall', and this included Kris Kobach, the former secretary of state for Kansas; Erik Prince, the defense contractor; Tom Tancredo, a former Colorado congressman, David A Clarke Jr, a former Wisconsin sheriff, and the former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling. Bannon and Badolato had been business partners since at least 2003, and they were reportedly together in various ventures, including a nasal spray company called SinoFresh Healthcare. But this one was also involved in controversy for alleged illegal trading of company stock and of using corporate funds for personal gain.

Shea and his wife Amanda had a significant social media presence and promoted their business ventures. One of those was a company called Winning Energy, which seldom used images of Trump to sell products such as a can of what it described as 12 ounces of “liberal tears,” according to the report. According to the New York Times, the private wall did get started but faced backlash as soon as workers began digging into Sunland Park. Mayor Javier Perea of Sunland Park said the group did not gather necessary permits, forcing him to order a temporary halt on the work. Kolfage responded by tweeting that Perea supported “open borders, the sex slaves and illegal drugs coming into their communities.” The report quotes Perea as saying, “They were deliberately withholding information.”

They also built along the riverbank in South Texas but were confronted with lawsuits filed by landowners protesting how it would cut through their property. The report states that the group had hired the North Dakota company Fisher Sand & Gravel to build the barriers. POTUS distanced himself from the matter, as per the report. A CNBC report quotes press secretary Kayleigh McEnany as saying, “President Trump has not been involved with Steve Bannon since the campaign and the early part of the Administration, and he does not know the people involved with this project.”

But according to NYT, Kobach told The Times last year that the group had received the president’s blessing. Robert S Spalding III, a retired brigadier general who served on Trump’s National Security Council, admitted that he had agreed to join the board of directors on Bannon’s request, whom he knew from the White House. Spalding is quoted as saying, “All I can say is, it’s sad. I did it, to be honest, because I respected Brian because he had fought for the country and as a fellow airman I wanted to support him. They just reached out to me and asked if I would do it.” He added that he had not been involved in the group’s financial operations and had resigned.

The report states that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees nonprofit groups in the state, last year had declared that it had opened an investigation of 'We Build the Wall' after complaints from consumers. One of the complainants, as reported by NYT, Harvey Garlotte, a Hattiesburg man had donated $60. But he states that he “felt duped” because Kolfage, who had earlier promised that the fund would be used to build the wall, was redirecting it to a nonprofit organization he controlled. The report quotes Garlotte as saying, “From my side of the road, Kolfage was simply using a hot-button topic, a very emotional topic, and his status as a wounded veteran, for selfish and self-serving reasons and personal financial gain.”

In a statement on Thursday, as reported by NYT, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said that after opening the investigation in May 2019, they had referred it to the FBI. However, it is not clear if that referral had led to the arrests on Thursday, as per the reports. As reported earlier, Inspector-in-Charge Philip R Bartlett has said, “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.” However, the release clarified that "charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty."

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