'We Build the Wall' Donors Were Warned They Were Taking 'Huge Risk' Trusting Campaign

Americans who donated to the "We Build the Wall" campaign, currently at the center of fraud charges laid against former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and three others, were warned that they were taking a "huge risk" in donating to the online campaign.

The We Build the Wall online fundraiser was launched with the promise of letting Americans donate their money to "help build the Trump wall."

However, on Thursday, Bannon was charged alongside Brian Kolfage, Andrew Baldato and Timothy Shea for allegedly funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the more than $25 million raised from the online campaign to Kolfage, with the Department of Justice (DoJ) accusing all four defendants of profiting from the scheme.

According to the DoJ, Bannon received more than $1 million, at least some of which was used to cover his personal expenses.

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The former Trump confidant has been arrested, according to CNN, and is set to appear in court later.

All four men have been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, as well as one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

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They could receive up to 20 years behind bars for each count.

The charges come months after charity watchdog groups warned that donors were taking a "huge risk" in putting money into the campaign, particularly with respect to Kolfage's leadership on the project.

"We warned donors at the peak of the GoFundMe campaign of our concerns about this group's general lack of transparency and ability to deliver on its promises to donors," CharityWatch Executive Director Laurie Styron told Newsweek on Friday.

Indeed, back in January 2019, CharityWatch analyst Stephanie Kalivas, who Newsweek has contacted for comment, warned in an interview with The Daily Caller that "donors are taking a huge risk in blindly trusting that Kolfage," a triple-amputee Air Force veteran, "will keep to, or be able to execute on, his claims, especially considering the magnitude of the purported mission."

Kalivas specifically expressed concerns at the time around Kolfage's lack of transparency around the project.

Noting that Kolfage had "no established track record" at the time, Kalivas said he should be willing to be more "transparent with the public."

"The apparent lack of established governing documents, and Kolfage's unwillingness to make available to the public the 'white paper' he claims has already been prepared 'to every detail' are additional red flags," she said.

"Essentially, they capitalized on the political tribalism, xenophobia, and economic fears they helped to stoke among certain factions of the U.S. population, promising a border wall that they were seemingly never equipped to deliver," Styron asserted.

"We Build The Wall may have raised over $25 million, but widely publicized cost estimates reflect that the initial cost would be in the billions," the executive director said.

"Donors, whatever programs or projects they choose to support, need to be vigilant and proactive in thinking about whether or not the people promising certain outcomes in exchange for their donations are equipped to deliver on them, have a track record of delivering on similar projects, and are transparent enough to ensure donations will be used for the intended purposes," Styron said.

Meanwhile, former IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, who headed up the IRS from 2003 to 2007, said he believed the money Kolfage raised "would have come and gone by the time anyone understands what happened with it."

"There's a significant lag, so donors won't be able to see how they're really spending the money," Everson, who Newsweek has also contacted for comment, warned. "They won't see that for a long time," he said.

With the new charges, donors are unlikely to be happy to learn how at least some of their money has been spent.

Newsweek has contacted Bannon and Kolfage for comment.

This article has been updated with a statement from CharityWatch Executive Director Laurie Styron.

Bannon
Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon addresses during a debate entitled 'Sovereignism vs Europeanism' on the future of Europe and on how western democracies are transforming, at the headquarters of strategic consultancy Comin & Partners on March 25, 2019 in Rome, Italy. Bannon and three others haev been charged for allegedly funneling money from the 'We Build the Wall' campaign. Stefano Montes/Corbis/Getty
'We Build the Wall' Donors Were Warned They Were Taking 'Huge Risk' Trusting Campaign | U.S.