Veteran and financier both plead guilty in ‘We Build The Wall’ fundraising scam
NEW YORK — The co-founder of theWe build the wallA project to raise money for a border wall pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges in a case that once included former President Donald Trump’s adviser Steve Bannon.
Brian Kolfage admitted to pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars while promising that all donations would pay for the wall. His plea came a month before a trial in a case that began in dramatic fashion in August 2020 when Bannon was removed from a luxury yacht off the coast of Connecticut and arrested on allegations that he and three other people allegedly falsely promised donors that all donations would help build a wall on the southern border.
Bannon was pardoned by Trump just before leaving office last year. Bannon had pleaded not guilty to charges of pocketing more than $1 million, using some of the money to secretly pay Kolfage, an Air Force veteran who lost both his legs in an attack mortars in Iraq.
A guilty plea on Thursday by financial co-defendant Andrew Badolato in the case at the same electronic hearing conducted remotely before U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan meant only one of the four initially charged defendants could stand trial in mid-May.
Plea agreements between the government and Kolfage and Badolato specified that the defendants would not contest sentences within an agreed range of guidelines. For Kolfage, that range was four to five years. For Badolato, it was about 3½ to four years. Sentencing was scheduled for September 6.
Kolfage, of Miramar Beach, Fla., pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy and tax charges originally brought in Florida. Badolato, of Sarasota, Fla., pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy. Without the plea deal, Kolfage could have faced up to 46 years in prison while Badolato faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The organizers of the “We Build The Wall” group have raised more than $25 million from thousands of donors by repeatedly promising that every dollar would be used for the project.
Asked to describe their crimes by the judge, Kolfage said the group originally planned for all the money raised to be used to build a wall, but it “quickly became apparent” that the plan to give the money to the US government for the construction of the wall construction was not possible.
At that time, he said, they “encouraged donors to buy into the new project” to build a border wall on private land by falsely claiming that none of the donations would be spent on salaries. or as compensation for fundraisers.
“I knew what I was doing was wrong and a crime,” he said.
After speaking, Torres asked questions, including whether he had promised the audience that “100%” of the money would go towards building the wall.
“That’s right,” he replied.
“Despite your promise, you entered into an agreement with others to keep a large sum of money for yourself,” the judge said.
“That’s right,” Kolfage replied.
Badolato said he was involved in the plot from 2018 to 2020, agreeing to assure donors that all money would go towards building the wall despite knowing the claims were false.
“I knew it was wrong and I’m terribly, terribly sorry for what I did and I humbly ask for mercy from the court,” he said.
When the judge asked Badolato if he was aware that Kolfage was going to receive donation money, he replied, “Yes, I did and helped facilitate it.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicolas Roos said evidence against the men at trial allegedly included testimonies from donors, as well as records of transactions following donations to the defendants’ bank accounts, emails and text records, as well as public statements made by the co-conspirators that were false.