October 1, 2022

ARRESTED AGAIN: Trump wall scam sends Steve Bannon into custody of NY prosecutors

ARRESTED AGAIN: Trump Wall scam sends Steve Bannon into arms of NY prosecutors

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Multiple major news outlets report former Trump campaign manager and right-wing svengali Steve Bannon is preparing to surrender to prosecutors on Thursday to face state charges in the $25 million WeBuildTheWall scam.

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This author’s original investigation in 2019 caused the scam to unravel.

This will be Bannon’s second arrest on felony fraud charges stemming from his swindling of WeBuildTheWall donors to funnel money to its convicted fraudster and tax cheat founder Brian Kolfage, a disgraced former U.S. airman. It has been 747 days since US Postal Inspectors first arrested Bannon on a mega-yacht off the Connecticut coast, and owing to a last-minute presidential pardon 18 months ago, the nationalist podcaster had thus far escaped accountability for the seven-figure heist.

However, the podcaster and former Breitbart editor faced justice for two contempt of Congress misdemeanor charges for stonewalling the House’s January 6th Select Committee. Only 47-days ago, a DC jury convicted him on both counts. Bannon is facing at least 30 days of jail time on those offenses, up to two years.

Prosecutors at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in New York City filed this week’s indictment under seal against Steve Bannon after the twin plea deals in April by both Kolfage and his longtime friend and fellow penny-stock hustler, Andrew Badolato, a man who cooperated with authorities against a mafia loan shark to stop paying $12,500 which he’d borrowed at 500% interest.

Tonight’s new indictment is reportedly related to the money laundering conspiracy, wire fraud, and tax charges that ultimately led to WeBuildTheWall forfeiting $17 million of its massive fundraising haul to the government earlier this year. The Washington Post reports:

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[P]eople familiar with the situation, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sealed indictment, suggested the prosecution will likely mirror aspects of the federal case in which Bannon was pardoned.

In that indictment, prosecutors alleged that Bannon and several others defrauded contributors to a private, $25 million fundraising effort, called “We Build the Wall,” taking funds that donors were told would support construction of a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Bannon is extremely upset over the new indictment, based on his statement to NBC News responding to the Post’s reporting. (Story continues below)

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WeBuildTheWall was so brazen in its grift that even Donald Trump publicly distanced himself from the group in a tweet from his now-defunct personal account just five weeks before the initial indictment landed, saying it “was only done to make me look bad.” When the first set of indictments landed, Trump told reporters that he knew nothing about it and that it was just done for “showboating” reasons before blaming President Obama without any evidence or even a shred of facts. Previously, his son Don Jr. had praised the group as a “private enterprise at its finest” while getting paid to jet set to one of its fundraisers.

GoFundMe allowed the original “The Trump Wall” fundraiser as it was first known to stay online for 20 months, raking in $25,615,200 from unsuspecting donors.

At the heart of Steve Bannon’s fraud scheme with Kolfage were the public and frequent declarations that 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 Citizens of the Republic.

Coincidentally, a new report in The Daily Beast today discovered that the IRS had just revoked the nonprofit status of Citizens of the Republic as of early last month for failure to file tax returns.

The sequence of events leading to today’s arrest of Steve Bannon began with a tip to this reporter from one anonymous source who knew WeBuildTheWall founder Brian Kolfage.

Kolfage had told my source he was broke because Facebook had deleted his right-wing news network only six months before they blew the whistle on his grifting.

Yet the nonprofit “volunteer,” as the WeBuildTheWall founder frequently called himself, shared social media posts in which my initial reporting showed him living in a million-dollar home and regularly using his newly acquired $600,000 yacht. At the time, open-source boat financing transaction records indicated that he was still making large purchases with no visible source of income.

Perversely, both Kolfage and Bannon mocked this author’s reporting in a video that went viral after the pair’s first indictment.

The Roots of the Downfall of Steve Bannon

In reply to this reporter’s first story, Kolfage sent a series of taunting but evasive emails to this author before he invited “a reputable fact-checking website,” which turned out to be Snopes.com, to try and debunk my reporting.

That, in turn, led Snopes’ Bethania Palma to cover the original report and then to contact Florida’s Attorney General while doing her due diligence for a story about this author’s reporting entitled, “Did Wall GoFundMe founder use the money to buy a yacht?

Little did the alleged fraudster know, because of his actions in response to the revelation of his luxury lifestyle, that the die had already been cast that would lead to his conviction, and Steve Bannon’s second indictment related to the wall fraud, his third in the last three years.

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 following up on the author’s story which alerted the Attorney General’s office to complaints about Kolfage.

In turn, the Attorney General’s office forwarded the consumer messages to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which regulates nonprofits, and promptly opened a civil investigation into the scheme. This author obtained all of the relevant emails through a public records request.

The story continues below this email, showing the genesis of the WeBuildTheWall investigation: 

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.

But they did provide a copy of the nonprofit’s bylaws to the investigator at Snopes, which said that Kolfage was forbidden from profiting when per the SDNY’s original indictment, he and his associates admitted that it was a powerful funding pitch, even if untrue.

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In July 2019, this reporter exclusively reported the Florida Ag Department confirmed that it began the criminal investigation into WeBuildTheWall. The Florida Ag Department released a statement explaining that its work led to a referral to the FBI, which ultimately led to federal charges in New York and eventually this week’s indictment from the Manhattan DA’s office:

Upon further investigation, the Department’s Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement subsequently referred the investigation to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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.

Ironically, now that Trump is out of office, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced that his nation would spend $1.5 billion this year at an Oval Office meeting with President Joe Biden.

The way the scheme worked is that Kolfage paid a million dollars to the dark money nonprofit controlled by Bannon, who in turn kicked back $100,000 right away and paid out a $20,000 monthly stipend. Ultimately, the federal indictment alleged and convicted Brian Kolfage for using his wall salary to fund payments on the large boat spotlighted in this author’s original report, as well as his luxury home renovations, a fancy SUV, and personal debt payments.

Now, Steve Bannon will turn himself in to New York authorities to face what will become the most serious felony criminal charges of his life with little chance of a second pardon.

Grant Stern

Editor at Large

is the Executive Editor of Occupy Democrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also a 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, an unpaid senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition, and a Director of Sunshine Agenda Inc. a government transparency nonprofit organization.

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