The Veteran Who Launched A Multimillion-Dollar Effort To Build A Border Wall Has Agreed To Plead Guilty To Fraud Charges
Brian Kolfage publicly promised he wouldn't take a cent after founding We Build the Wall and raising more than $25 million, but prosecutors say he took hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Brian Kolfage, an Iraq War veteran who launched a multimillion-dollar crowdfunding effort to build a private border wall, has agreed to plead guilty to fraud charges after prosecutors say he surreptitiously took hundreds of thousands of dollars from the fundraiser.
Before launching We Build the Wall, Kolfage had made a living by peddling right-wing misinformation on social media, eventually leading to him being banned on Facebook. In a letter filed in the federal Southern District of New York, federal prosecutors said that in addition to the attempt and conspiracy to commit wire fraud charges, Kolfage also agreed to plead guilty to federal charges of lying on his 2019 taxes.
According to prosecutors, Kolfage first claimed to have earned $63,574 that year and then filed a correction claiming $300,000, but officials claimed Kolfage's income for that year "were materially in excess of that amount."
Kolfage collected the funds despite claiming that he wouldn't earn "a penny in salary or compensation" for the massive crowdfunding effort, but federal prosecutors alleged he and others with the organization arranged a scheme in which he secretly took more than $350,000 from the donations by using nonprofits and shell companies.
Steve Bannon, a top aide to former president Donald Trump, was also charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering. According to the indictment, Bannon had received at least $1 million from the supposed nonprofit. In the last hours of his presidency, however, Trump issued a pardon for Bannon.
The We Build the Wall campaign raised more than $25 million on GoFundMe in what was pitched as a private effort to assist the Trump administration in building a wall along the southern border.
But the effort immediately raised questions, including about Kolfage, who had launched other crowdfunding efforts but left a trail of supposed benefactors who said they never received promised donations.
With the raised money, Kolfage launched a nonprofit named We Build the Wall that was supposed to work with private contractors to build a wall on private land. The organization eventually launched two building efforts with the North Dakota–based company Fisher Sand & Gravel in Texas and New Mexico.
It also drew a slew of conservative and right-wing figures to the site, including Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, former Fox News personality Kimberly Guilfoyle, who made an appearance and spoke to supporters alongside Kolfage during a days-long fundraiser in Sunland Park, New Mexico.
Kris Kobach, the former secretary of state of Kansas, acted as general counsel for We Build the Wall and David Clarke, a former sheriff of Milwaukee County and conservative pundit, served on its board of directors. At one point, Kolfage also claimed that Erik Prince, the former founder of the military contractor Blackwater, was handling security for the construction sites.
The group also attracted extremist figures, including a militant group whose leaders claimed to also work security for the New Mexico construction site.
Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers militant group, who is facing seditious conspiracy charges for the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, also got a personal tour of one of the projects.
Kolfage also claimed to have direct access to the Trump White House, tweeting a copy of an invitation but refusing to provide details about his visit. His wife posted pictures on Instagram with their children of the event.
After Kolfage was indicted, Trump Jr. and officials with the Trump administration sought to distance themselves from the veteran.
The first wall, in Sunland Park, New Mexico, immediately pitted Kolfage and We Build the Wall against city officials, who claimed there were no permits issued for the half-mile wall that was suddenly erected in the desert.
Meanwhile, Kolfage touted on Twitter how the wall had been erected quickly to catch the city off guard and launched unsubstantiated claims of corruption against local officials.
We Build the Wall also clashed with the International Boundary and Water Commission after it plowed through building part of that wall on federal land, despite repeated warnings from officials that permits were required.
The result was a half-mile wall with a gate that was required to remain open during the day and only forced immigrants to walk around the structure.
A second wall was built in Mission, Texas. That effort also sparked a lawsuit against We Build the Wall, this time by a neighboring butterfly sanctuary that accused Kolfage of defamation after tweeting a number of baseless allegations, including that the sanctuary's director was ignoring "rampant sex trade" and dead bodies on its property.
The contractor for the project, Fisher Sand & Gravel, also claimed that We Build the Wall suddenly pulled out of the $8 million project and paid for only $1.5 million of it.
Kolfage is expected to change his plea on April 21.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice declined to comment on the plea agreement reached with Kolfage.
Kolfage's attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The federal charge for attempt and conspiracy to commit wire fraud could lead to a sentence of 20 years in prison.