Former Trump Strategist Stephen Bannon Arrested on Federal Fraud Charges

Former Trump Strategist Stephen Bannon Arrested on Federal Fraud Charges

Federal agents arrested former senior White House adviser Stephen Bannon and three other men Thursday morning on charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and money-laundering.

The four raised millions of dollars on the false promise that they would independently build sections of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, in line with President Trump’s broader operation using taxpayer funds, according to a federal grand jury indictment.

Bannon served as Trump’s chief strategist at the White House for seven months after being his campaign’s CEO.

The U.S. Department of Justice said in a press release that Bannon, along with Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, raised $25 million through online crowdfunding for an organization called “We Build The Wall,” and pledged that Kolfage, the group’s leader, would “not take a penny in salary or compensation.”

“The defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle,” the Justice department said.

Kolfage, who is an Air Force veteran and a triple amputee, allegedly kept more than $350,000. Bannon is accused of receiving more than $1 million, and spent hundreds of thousands on his own personal expenses.

The fraud scheme included “creating sham invoices and accounts to launder donations and cover up their crimes,” Inspector-in-Charge Philip Bartlett said.

Bannon has said publicly of We Build The Wall that “we’re a volunteer organization.”

At the White House on Thursday, the president told reporters that he had been aware of the “We Build The Wall” group, but “I know nothing about the project other than I didn’t like when I read about it.”

“It sounded to me like showboating,” he said.

Trump distanced himself from Bannon, who he branded “Sloppy Steve” after he left the White House, saying that in addition to campaign work, “he worked for Goldman Sachs. He worked for a lot of companies.”

The president said he hadn’t met the other three defendants, but “I don’t think that should be a privately financed wall. … It’s too complex. It’s too big.”

He claimed his administration has built nearly 300 miles of the border, which he promised to erect during the 2016 campaign.

He mocked Bannon’s group on Thursday, saying “I was reading where they were having construction problems. … They had a small area just to show people they could build a wall and they were having a lot of problems where it was toppling over and other things.”

Kolfage and Bannon are expected to appear in court on Thursday.

Conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering are federal crimes whose penalties can each be up to 20 years in prison.

We Build the Wall collected its first $17 million by claiming it would give the money to the federal government for the purpose of building sections of border wall.

GoFundMe canceled the campaign after the group changed course and said the nonprofit would build the wall by itself.



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Bloody skull drawings could mean serial killer left behind more victims

Bloody skull drawings could mean serial killer left behind more victims

When Israel Keyes died by suicide while in custody on Dec. 2, 2012, he left behind a trail of murder and mayhem stretching from Alaska to New Jersey and Texas to Canada, as documented in the thousands of pages of internal FBI documents made available via the Freedom of Information Act. The 34-year old from Colville, Washington was, at various times, a burglar, arsonist, rapist, bank robber and, as he was dubbed in the title of investigative journalist Maureen Callahan’s book, an “American Predator.” 

Though it’s been most of a decade since Keyes’ killing spree came to an end in 2012, the FBI continues to seek the public’s help in finding his unidentified victims. While only three victims have been confirmed, the total is likely higher. Keyes drew cryptic skull and pentagrams in his own blood in the cell where he committed suicide, the FBI revealed earlier this year. Investigators believe a series of 11 skull drawings may represent 11 victims.

The FBI hopes that by releasing both the FOIA case files and the information that Keyes may have had eight unknown victims, they might bring leads forward to help identify those victims.

Israel Keyes mugshot. (FBI photo)

Keyes’ crime spree began in the mid-1990s and ended with his arrest in Lufkin, Texas, on March 13, 2012. The FBI was able to track Keyes from Alaska to Texas through transactions he made using Anchorage victim Samantha Koenig’s debit card. Keyes’ abduction of 18-year-old Koenig from the coffee stand where she worked is what first put the FBI onto the killer’s trail.

Though the FOIA records don’t provide much new information on the victims, they do give insight into the process by which Keyes’ web of intrigue unraveled. The post-arrest search warrant of Keyes’ property reads: 

[Koenig’s employer] reported that while viewing his internet-based security system he saw one of his employees, 18-year old S.K., appear to be abducted. … [security video] showed an unknown man climb through the window of the coffee stand … the video appears to show S.K. retreat a short distance and raising her hands in an apparent sign of submission to the man who subsequently climbed into the coffee stand, robbed S.K., and escorted her away from the scene. … S.K.’s reaction appeared to be consistent with someone who was confronted or threatened with a weapon.

Keyes killed Koenig the day after he abducted her, but used makeup, fishing line and sewn-open eyes to stage photographs in which she appeared to be alive. Two weeks after murdering Koenig, Keyes used these photographs to send ransom demands via a note stashed in a dog park and texts he sent to her family members. Then he dismembered Koenig’s body and disposed of it in a lake north of Anchorage.

These methods fit Keyes’ meticulous modus operandi that had allowed him to operate freely for years. His victims were spread out geographically and far from his home, where his friends and family had no idea of his double life. Unlike most serial killers, Keyes did not have a traditional victim profile or method of killing. He used “kill kits” he’d stashed around the country. Containing firearms, zip ties and other supplies used to dispose bodies, these kits would be hidden in places for later retrieval and use.

A photo posted online by the FBI shows a cache of materials that speed decomposition.

When he was eventually caught, Keyes confessed to Koenig’s murder. Facing the death penalty, he offered up information on other victims, including Vermont couple Bill and Lorraine Currier, whose sudden disappearance in 2011 had previously stumped investigators.

Keyes confessed to several other murders, as well as bank robberies and arson. According to the search warrant, Keyes indicated he had “lots more stories to tell,” and also claimed he had been “two different people” for 14 years.

But other than Koenig and the Curriers, he failed to identify his victims by name or give locations of the remains, leading investigators to reach out to the public for more information.

The FBI says Israel Keyes abducted Samantha Koenig from the Common Grounds coffee stand on Tudor Road in Anchorage, Alaska on February 1, 2012. (FBI photo)

“Right now, the investigation has run through all the leads that we have,” said Special Agent Joe Bieshelt with the Anchorage FBI office. “We’re just waiting for any new information the public might have.”

This appeal to the public for help is not new. In a 2013 FBI press release, Special Agent Jolene Goeden said of Keyes: “We are trying to get information out there about what he did tell us. We are letting the public know the types of cars he rented, towns he visited, campgrounds he frequented. Anything that might spur someone’s memory could help us.”

Seven years later, the majority of Keyes’ victims remain unidentified.

Tips can be submitted via phone at 1-800-CALL-FBI, or via online form through the FBI website.

(Edited by Emily Crockett and Sally Benford.)



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Black Trump supporter gunned down, federal investigation demanded

Black Trump supporter gunned down, federal investigation demanded

Bernell Trammell, a local personality of Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood who was known for his political activism and religious proselytizing, was shot and killed in broad daylight. 

Trammell, a vocal Rastafarian sometimes nicknamed “Ras,” was known to his neighbors as a “Rasta street preacher” who would frequently quote Biblical scripture to passersby. He said in one video interview that his support of Donald Trump was a result of religious prophecy and a “sign of the times.”

And Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Andrew Hitt has called for an investigation into whether Trammell’s murder was politically motivated. Trammell was well-known for his support of President Donald Trump, frequently carrying and displaying signs reading “Vote Donald Trump 2020.” But he was also a supporter of Black Lives Matter and Democratic mayoral candidate Lena Taylor.

“Because of Trammell’s well known political activism and the possibility that his murder could be politically motivated, I respectfully request that United States Attorney Matthew Krueger open an investigation into this heinous crime,” Hitt said in a statement. “No American should fear for their personal safety because of where they live or their political affiliation.”

The 60-year-old was killed at 12:30 p.m. last Thursday outside the office of eXpressions Journal, a business he owned and ran that published political and religious materials. Police described the suspected shooter, who was captured on closed-circuit video, as a man in his 30s, approximately 6 feet tall and weighing roughly 200 pounds. Screen captures released by police showed the suspect wearing a black mask that covered part of his face, a red-and-white baseball cap, a black-and-red long sleeve shirt with white text on the front, light-colored pants and black shoes.

An image of the suspect on a bike. (Courtesy: Milwaukee Police Department)

 

An image of the suspect. (Courtesy: Milwaukee Police Department)

Despite his eccentric politics and presentation, Trammell was respected and liked by many in his community.

Vaun Mayes, a community activist who has been involved in recent anti-racism and anti-police brutality protests, called Trammell “a community elder and beloved figure” and organized a vigil for him outside the eXpressions office.

Kevan Penvose, a local pastor and activist, wrote on his Facebook page:

At the community vigil today I didn’t see any of these GOP officials who are now trying to use my neighbor’s tragic death as a wedge issue. But black community leaders were there to pay respects to the man known as Ras and Halo, because Black Lives Matter means All Black Lives Matter, which has nothing to do with partisanship as we strive for justice in unity. … Ras Trammell was a man with whom I hardly ever agreed about anything he wrote on his signs, but also, as a Rasta street preacher, he was one of the people that make my neighborhood so uniquely wonderful.

Any information regarding Trammell’s murder can be relayed to Milwaukee Police via phone at 414-935-7360, or via Milwaukee Crime Stoppers at 414-224-TIPS. Sgt. Sheronda Grant, a spokesperson for the Milwaukee Police Department, said the department has yet to identify a motive and is still seeking a suspect.

(Edited by Emily Crockett and Allison Elyse Gualtieri.)



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