NATIONAL NEWS

Two plead guilty in ‘We Build The Wall’ fraudulent fundraiser

Apr 22, 2022, 12:38 PM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 3:35 pm
FILE - Former U.S. Air Force veteran and Iraq war double amputee Brian Kolfage, second from right, ...
FILE - Former U.S. Air Force veteran and Iraq war double amputee Brian Kolfage, second from right, attends the National September 11 Memorial and Museum's "Salute to Service" tribute honoring U.S. veterans, Nov. 10, 2014 in New York. Kolfage, co-founder of the "We Build The Wall" project aimed at raising money for a border wall, has pleaded guilty, Thursday, April 21, 2022 to charges in a case that once included former President Donald Trump's adviser Steve Bannon. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)
(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — The co-founder of the “We Build The Wall” project aimed at raising money for a border wall pleaded guilty 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 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 pulled from a luxury yacht off the coast of Connecticut and arrested on allegations that he and three others ripped off donors trying to fund a southern border wall.

Bannon was pardoned by Trump just before he left office last year. Bannon had pleaded not guilty to charges he pocketed over $1 million, using some of the money to secretly pay Kolfage, a 39-year-old Air Force veteran who lost both legs in a mortar attack in Iraq.

A guilty plea Thursday by codefendant financier Andrew Badolato, 57, in the case during the same remotely conducted electronic hearing before U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan meant that only one of the four defendants originally charged might go to trial in mid-May.

Plea agreements between the government and Kolfage and Badolato specified the defendants will not challenge sentences within an agreed-to guidelines range. For Kolfage, that range was four to five years. For Badolato, it was roughly 3 1/2 years to four years. Sentencing was scheduled for Sept. 6.

Kolfage, of Miramar Beach, Florida, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy and tax charges brought originally in Florida. Badolato, of Sarasota, Florida, 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 punishment of 20 years in prison.

The organizers of the “We Build The Wall” group raised more than $25 million from thousands of donors as they repeatedly pledged that every dollar would be used for the project.
Asked to describe his crimes by the judge, Kolfage said the group had originally intended for all the raised money to be used to build a wall, but it “soon became apparent” that the plan to donate the money to the U.S. government for the wall’s construction was not possible.

At that point, he said, they “induced donors to opt in to the new project” to build a border wall on private land by falsely representing that none of the donations would be spent on salaries or compensation to the fundraisers.

“I knew what I was doing was wrong and a crime,” he said.

After he spoke, Torres asked questions, including whether he had promised the public that “100 percent” of the money would go toward building the wall.

“That is correct,” he answered.

Former Trump Administration White House advisor Steve Bannon arrives at the FBI Washington Field Office on November 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. Bannon was charged on Friday with two counts of contempt of Congress after refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“Despite your promise, you made an agreement with others to keep a large sum of money for yourself,” the judge said.

“That is correct,” Kolfage answered.

Badolato said he engaged in the conspiracy from 2018 to 2020, agreeing to assure donors that all the money would go toward building the wall when he knew the statements were false.

“I knew this was wrong and I’m terribly, terribly sorry for what I did and I humbly beg the court for mercy,” he said.

When the judge asked Badolato if he was aware that Kolfage was going to get money from donations, he said: “Yes I did and I helped facilitate it.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicolas Roos said evidence against the men at trial would have included testimony from donors, along with transaction records following donations into the defendants’ bank accounts, emails and text records, along with public statements made by the coconspirators that were false.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

FILE - President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Cong...
Associated Press

Biden aims to deliver reassurance in State of Union address

President Joe Biden is ready to offer a reassuring assessment of the nation's condition rather than roll out flashy policy proposals as he delivers his second State of the Union address.
2 days ago
The near-collision happened at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, seen here from the air. (Kir...
Greg Wallace and Pete Muntean

Southwest, FedEx jets came within 100 feet of collision at Texas airport, investigators say

A Southwest passenger jet and a FedEx cargo plane came as close as 100 feet from colliding Saturday at the main airport in Texas' capital, and it was a pilot — not air traffic controllers — who averted disaster, a top federal investigator says.
2 days ago
In this handout photo provided by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Nathan Lee Chasing ...
Rio Yamat, Associated Press

‘Dances With Wolves’ actor charged in Nevada sex abuse case

Former “Dances With Wolves” actor Nathan Chasing Horse has been formally charged in Nevada with eight felonies and two misdemeanors.
2 days ago
police tape outside of a Virginia elementary school...
Denise Lavoie and Ben Finley, Associated Press

Boy who shot teacher allegedly tried to choke another

An attorney for a teacher who was shot and wounded by a 6-year-old Virginia boy says in a legal notice that the first-grader constantly cursed at staff and teachers, chased students around and tried to whip them with his belt and once choked another teacher “until she couldn’t breathe.”
2 days ago
IN SPACE - FEBRUARY 8: In this handout photo provided by SpaceX, a Tesla roadster launched from the...
Jackie Wattles

SpaceX put a Tesla sportscar into space five years ago. Where is it now?

It's been half a decade since Elon Musk launched his own Tesla car into space with a SpaceX rocket, but where is it now?
2 days ago
AMC raises seat prices...
Associated Press

AMC to charge more for good seats in movie theaters

Middle seats at many U.S. movie theaters just got more expensive.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

vintage photo of lighting showroom featuring chandeliers, lamps, wall lights and mirrors...
Lighting Design

History of Lighting Design | Over 25 Years of Providing Utah With the Latest Trends and Styles

Read about the history of Lighting Design, a family-owned and operated business that paved the way for the lighting industry in Utah.
Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Two plead guilty in ‘We Build The Wall’ fraudulent fundraiser