US Postal Inspectors arrested President Donald Trump’s 2016 Campaign Chairman on a mega-yacht off the Connecticut coast on Wednesday.
Prosecutors at the Southern District of New York (SDNY) revealed an indictment against Steve Bannon and his primary co-conspirator, military veteran Brian Kolfage, as well as two other co-conspirators, for allegedly using their private wall nonprofit “WeBuildTheWall, Inc.” to engage in criminal wire fraud and money laundering.
Today, after the arrests were made, GoFundMe finally took down “The Trump Wall” fundraiser as it was originally known, but not until it raked in $25,615,200 from unsuspecting donors, which the SDNY alleges was spirited away by Bannon and Kolfage to support their luxury lifestyles from the early days of the scheme.
It wasn’t common knowledge of how deeply involved Steve Bannon had become with WeBuildTheWall, but today’s indictment alleges his intimate involvement.
The crux of Bannon’s fraud scheme included his conspirator Kolfage publicly and frequently declaring the wall nonprofit was spending 100% of its contributions on building a private border wall, even though the wounded vet had already siphoned off $1,000,000 to the former Trump Campaign Chair’s charity.
The sequence of events leading to today’s arrest of Steve Bannon began with a tip to this reporter from one very credible, anonymous source who said they knew WeBuildTheWall founder Brian Kolfage.
Kolfage had told my source he was broke only six months earlier because Facebook had deleted his right-wing news network.
Yet the nonprofit “volunteer,” as Brian Kolfage frequently called himself, shared social media posts that my initial reporting included which showed him living in a million-dollar home and regularly using his newly acquired $600,000 yacht.
Boat financing transaction records seemed to indicate that he was still making large purchases with no visible source of income.
In reply to this reporter’s first story, Kolfage sent a series of taunting, but evasive emails to me and enticed Snopes.com to try and debunk my reporting.
That, in turn, led Snopes’ Bethania Palms to contact Florida’s Attorney General while doing their due diligence.
Little did the alleged fraudster know, because of his own actions in response to the revelation of his luxury lifestyle, the die had already been cast that would lead to his arrest today. Instead, Kolfage posted disparaging tweets and Facebook posts to his vast following.
Emails this reporter obtained through a public records request proved that it was Snopes’ messages which alerted the Attorney General’s office to complains about Kolfage, who in turn forwarded them to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which regulates nonprofits and promptly opened a civil investigation into the scheme.
As this reporter’s initial reporting stressed, WeBuildTheWall refused to provide a copy of its bylaws, and was being corporately mismanaged to the point where it was doubtful that they even had ratified proper bylaws.
Then, last July, this reporter exclusively reported the Florida Ag Department confirmed that it began its criminal investigation into WeBuildTheWall.
Today, the Florida Ag Department released this statement:
The investigation was prompted by consumer complaints referred by the Office of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. Upon further investigation, the Department’s Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement subsequently referred the investigation to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Investigators for the state continue to criminally investigate WeBuildTheWall, Inc. at this time.
A source familiar with the federal investigation into Bannon and Kolfage says that there may be other federal investigations ongoing into the matter.
Today’s indictment alleges that Brian Kolfage turned to Steve Bannon early in the scheme after it appeared he would have to return nearly $20 million raised that was originally intended to be donated to the government to build the wall that Donald Trump infamously promised Mexico would pay for during the 2016 election.
Prosecutors say Kolfage paid a million dollars to a charity controlled by Bannon, who in turn kicked back $100,000 right away and a $20,000 monthly stipend. Additionally, the two men and their two indicted co-conspirators discussed expressly how their ruse of taking no salary was “material” to shaking down Trump supporters for their wall scam.
The indictment also says Brian Kolfage used his wall salary to fund payments on the large boat spotlighted in my original report, as well as his luxury home renovations, a fancy SUV, and his personal debt payments.
Attorneys at SDNY are seeking forfeiture of Kolfage’s 2019 yacht “Warfighter,” along with the cash held in numerous bank accounts.
Interestingly, the charging document indicates that true to their public statements, WeBuildTheWall’s Kolfage and Bannon did not believe this reporter’s exclusive report revealing a criminal investigation into their activities and continued their scheme until one of their banks revealed a federal records subpoena last October.
The private wall group did manage to build a couple of small sections of walls along the southern border, although one of them is so close to the Rio Grande, engineers believe it is in danger of collapsing.
Barely over a month ago, out of the blue, Donald Trump publicly distanced himself from WeBuildTheWall, which his son had praised as “private enterprise at its finest” just last year while attending a fundraiser. Today, he claimed that he both had no idea the project existed but also complained that he disapproved of the project because it was “showboating.”
Steve Bannon will be arraigned in a New York federal courtroom later today.
Here’s a copy of the indictment:
Grant Stern is an Editor-At-Large for OccupyDemocrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report. Find out more at grantstern.com.