I don’t know about you, but I clearly remember former President Trump claiming that he was going to build a wall and Mexico was going to pay for it. Right?
Well, I’m not sure what happened, but in 2018, Brian Kolfage took it upon himself to raise money for the wall via a “We Build the Wall” Go Fund Me page. And he did raise money—more than $25 million, in fact. The problem was that not much wall got built, and now Kolfage is pleading guilty to fraud charges after ripping off his donors, BuzzFeed News reports.
Kolfage, a veteran who earned a Purple Heart after losing both of his legs and right arm while serving in Iraq in 2014, faces charges of attempt and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, along with federal charges of falsifying his income on his 2019 taxes, according to BuzzFeed.
“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 U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss wrote in a statement in 2020. “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.”
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The Department of Justice’s Southern District of New York (SDNY) indictment lists the defendants as Kolfage, Stephen Bannon, Andrew Badolato, and Timothy Shea. They all are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The indictment says that Bannon collected $1 million “through a non-profit organization under his control,” while Kolfage and the others funneled the money through nonprofits and a shell company. The indictment reads:
“They did so by using fake invoices and sham ‘vendor’” arrangements, among other ways, to ensure, as KOLFAGE noted in a text message to BADOLATO, that his pay arrangement remained “confidential” and kept on a “need to know” basis”
Kolfage did manage to put some money toward a wall. According to BuzzFeed, in Sunland Park, New Mexico, a wall about a half-mile long was built—with a gate. The result is a structure that is inconvenient but not impossible to simply walk around. And much of the building happened without proper permits and through hotly contested federal land, BuzzFeed reports.
The second wall in Mission, Texas, launched a defamation lawsuit by the National Butterfly Center alleging the wall violated an “international water treaty between the United States and Mexico” due to its proximity to the Rio Grande, according to Border Report.
In February, the sanctuary was forced to close after it became the target of a false conspiracy alleging the site was being used for child trafficking thereports.
“The defendants allegedly engaged in fraud when they misrepresented the true use of donated funds,” Inspector-in-Charge Philip R. Bartlett wrote in the SDNY’s indictment.
“As alleged, not only did they lie to donors, they schemed to hide their misappropriation of funds by creating sham invoices and accounts to launder donations and cover up their crimes, showing no regard for the law or the truth. This case should serve as a warning to other fraudsters that no one is above the law, not even a disabled war veteran or a millionaire political strategist.”