Steve Bannon, former adviser to President Donald Trump, was indicted Thursday along with three others for allegedly defrauding donors in a fundraising effort to build a controversial border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
The four were indicted by the U.S. Southern District of New York for their role in an online crowdfunding campaign called "We Build the Wall" that raised more than $25 million.
Bannon, former White House chief strategist, received more than $1 million from We Build the Wall through a non-profit organization under his control, officials said, and used it to "secretly" pay Kolfage and cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in Bannon's personal expenses.
Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement that "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."
The other defendants were identified as Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea.
"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," Strauss said.
Kolfage allegedly took more than $350,000 in funds that donors had given to We Build the Wall for his personal use, while Bannon publicly stated, “We’re a volunteer organization," federal officials said.
Each defendant was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
"Well I feel very badly. I haven't been dealing with him for a long period of time," Trump said, according to CNN.
A U.S.-Mexico border wall was a large part of Trump's march to the White House in 2016 and chants of "Build the wall!" were often heard at his campaign rallies.
Earlier this month, the San Antonio Express-News reported that Trump's campaign to build a wall has added only 5 miles of new walls along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The federal government has completed 260 miles of replacement and secondary walls, but only 5 new miles of the 30-foot high steel bollard fencing where none existed before, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data obtained by the Express-News.
The administration has set aside $15 billion for 738 miles of walls and fencing on the 2,000-mile border, with the money coming from Homeland Security, the Defense Department and the Treasury Forfeiture Fund.