Donald J. Trump issued dozens of pardons In his final hours as president, at least two of which touched the nonprofit sector. One pardon went to Trump’s former political advisor Steve Bannon and the other to Joshua J. Smith, founder of the 4th Purpose Foundation in Knoxville, Tenn.
Bannon was among four people indicted in connection with a GoFundMe campaign that raised millions of dollars to fund construction of a wall on the southern border.
“Prosecutors pursued Mr. Bannon with charges related to fraud stemming from his involvement in a political project,” according to a White House announcement issued last night.
Bannon, 66, was among four people indicted for allegedly defrauding “hundreds of thousands of dollars in connection with an online crowdfunding campaign known as ‘We Build the Wall’ that raised more than $25 million.” The We Build The Wall website refers to it as a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization.
In its announcement of pardons, the White House said Bannon “has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen.”
The three others charged in connection with the We Build the Wall campaign — Andrew Badolato, Brian Kolfage, and Timothy Shea — were not among those listed on the White House pardons. All four were 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.
The indictment cited repeated and allegedly false assurances that the four would not receive compensation but collectively, prosecutors said they received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds. Kolfage “covertly took more than $350,000” for personal use while Bannon, “through a nonprofit under his control,” received more than $ 1 million which he used to secretly pay Kolfage and cover thousands in personal expenses, according to the indictment.
We Build the Wall was originally launched as a GoFundMe effort in January 2019 with a goal to raise $1 billion but when it switched to 501(c)(4) status, the approximately 300,000 donors were required to actively opt-in to redirect contributions to the new organization.
Trump’s pardon of Smith acknowledged the nonprofit 4th Purpose Foundation “invests in research and programs that help prepare inmates for release from prison.” Smith was convicted in 1998 for his involvement in marijuana and cocaine trafficking and served a five-year sentence in a Kentucky federal prison.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Rep. Tim Burchett, Commissioner of the Department of Corrections Tony Parker, Director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation David Rausch, and other community and faith leaders supported the pardon, according to the White House’s announcement.
“Since his release from prison in 2003 for conspiracy to possess drugs with intent to distribute, Mr. Smith has dedicated his life to his faith and to his community,” the White House announcement read. “He is now a successful businessman and has used his financial success to establish Fourth Purpose, a non-profit organization devoted to making prison ‘a place of transformation. He has mentored incarcerated individuals and taught business classes to those in prison — including at the prison where he was incarcerated. Mr. Smith has also been heavily involved in mission trips throughout Latin America.”
After leaving prison, Smith started Master Service Companies, a residential service company, that became a $30-million enterprise employing ex-offenders among its 180 employees. Smith sold the company in 2019 and used the funds to start the 4th Purpose Foundation.
Since exiting prison, Smith has spent 15 years actively involved in criminal justice reform in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and countries in Latin America. He made a request for a pardon in 2019.
“Today is a day of redemption that I attribute to God’s grace,” Smith said in a press release. “God rescued me in prison and I have spent every day trying to help others who need transformation,” he said.
“Today is a day of redemption, but my work is not done,” Smith said. “There are a lot of Josh Smiths in prisons across our country, and I’m going to help as many as possible find a new purpose.”