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Steve Bannon arrested, charged with defrauding donors

On Thursday, federal law enforcement officials arrested President Donald Trump’s former top adviser, Steve Bannon, for defrauding donors in connection with a fundraising campaign focused on helping Trump build the U.S. southern border wall.

Bannon was arrested on a boat just off the coast of Connecticut. His attorney declined to comment on the arrest.

Three others were arrested including Brian Kolfage, who started the online crowdfunding campaign named “We Build the Wall.” The campaign was billed as a volunteer organization and Kolfage promised that 100% of proceeds would go towards the wall. They ultimately raised more than $25 million.

Federal prosecutors charge that Bannon used more than $1 million from “We Build the Wall” to pay Kolfage and cover hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own personal expenses. They also allege that Kolfage used more than $350,000 in donations for his personal use.

The four men are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

“As alleged, the defendants defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalizing on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretense that all of that money would be spent on construction,” Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said. “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.”

Bannon served as chief strategist to the president until August of 2017. He is credited along with Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway for getting the president elected in 2016.

The organization had communicated with the White House on how to work in collaboration on the construction of the wall. The White House declined to comment on the arrests on Thursday.

President Trump did briefly comment on the arrest from the Oval Office on Thursday.

“I feel very badly. I haven’t been dealing with him for a long period of time,” said Trump. “I know nothing about the project although when I read about it I didn’t like it. I said this is for government not for private people. It’s a very sad thing for Mr. Bannon.”

We Build the Wall had launched two private wall projects in New Mexico and Texas. Those projects were constructed on private land. Kolfage was very proud of his campaign and believed he was keeping the country safer.

“We Build the Wall is a game-changer for border security and is trying to make America safer,” Kolfage told reporters several months back.

Bannon and the other men are expected to appear in court later on Thursday for their initial court hearing.

PHOTO: AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File

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