‘We Build the Wall’ leaders to plead guilty for defrauding donors
Two men who worked with former Trump advisor Steve Bannon are expected to plead guilty in federal court for charges that they conned millions of dollars from donors who thought they were funding construction of a wall along the southern border.
Instead, the money was used for luxury purchases, including a boat, jewelry, a high-end SUV and plastic surgery.
Some of the defrauded donors were from Arizona. Bannon and his “OG MAGA crew” campaigned for the We Build the Wall effort here in 2019 along with one of his co-defendants who is expected to plead guilty, Brian Kolfage, a triple-amputee and Marine veteran who started the fundraising effort with initial viral success before being embroiled with lawsuits.
The news comes from court filings in the Manhattan federal court, where prosecutors alleged that Bannon, Kolfage, Florida venture capitalist Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea siphoned off more than $1 million of the cash into a nonprofit controlled by Bannon. The money was then used for personal expenses, prosecutors say.
More than $350,000 went to Kolfage, who used it for home renovations, a luxury SUV, boat payments, a golf cart, plastic surgery and jewelry. The court filing states that Kolfage intends to plead to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, as well as other federal tax-related charges that were brought against him related to the case.
Badolato is also expected to plead guilty, The New York Times reported. Bannon is not facing charges because he was issued a presidential pardon by President Donald Trump.
Arizona has played a center stage in Bannon’s talks around the wall and the organization itself.
In February 2019, Bannon and members of the group visited a gated community in Sahuarita to speak to the Quail Creek Republican Club.
At the event, Bannon, Kolfage, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, conservative Breitbart blogger Brandon Darby and former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo boasted about their lofty goal of raising $100 million to privately finance construction of a border wall.
Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who was the GOP House leader at the time, said he wanted to propose legislation during the 2019 legislative session to bar cities and counties from prohibiting the private building of a border wall, due to a dispute between the organization and a town in New Mexico.
Petersen said he intended for We Build the Wall to have a final say over the legislation.
An investigation by the Phoenix New Times found there is actually very little land in Arizona that the organization could actually utilize and most of the owners of that property had never heard of the organization.
Petersen did introduce his legislation, but it eventually died on the Senate floor and never became law.