The Group That Built A Privately Funded Border Wall Is Under Criminal Investigation
We Build the Wall has been accused of constructing the barrier without permits. Now, officials in Florida, where the nonprofit is registered, say there's an open criminal investigation.
The organization behind the viral crowdfunding effort to build a private wall along the southern border with Mexico is under criminal investigation in Florida, where it's registered as a nonprofit, officials confirmed to BuzzFeed News.
Founded by Brian Kolfage, a decorated Iraq War veteran with a history of profiting from fake and conspiratorial websites, We Build the Wall raised more than $23 million in donations to pay for President Trump's border wall.
On Tuesday, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees charities and nonprofits in the state, confirmed a criminal investigation into the group, as first reported by DCReport. However, it wasn't clear what sparked the criminal probe, with a spokesperson for the state agency saying they "cannot comment on ongoing investigations."
But there have been concerns raised regarding the use of the nonprofit for other fundraising efforts on behalf of its board members, which include former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
Last week, Kobach reportedly used an email list maintained by We Build the Wall to solicit donations for his Senate campaign.
As a 501(c)(4) in Florida, We Build the Wall can engage in advocacy and political lobbying, but Kobach's solicitation might have violated a requirement to include a "paid for" disclaimer, the Daily Beast reported.
In a statement, Kobach's campaign stated that if a mistake was made, it was to not include a "paid for by" notice. The campaign stated the issue was fixed by sending another email, to all the recipients of the first one, with the correct information.
Kolfage at first refuted there was any criminal investigation into his organization, calling the inquiry, "corporate governance check."
"There's no 'criminal investigation,'" he told BuzzFeed News. "It's a formality to check our records because of a complaint. Will be squashed in a few days."
But the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services cited the state's 119.071(2)(c)1 statute, which prevents an agency from releasing records due to an "active criminal investigation."
Kolfage later confirmed the investigation to BuzzFeed News, calling it "politically motivated" and blaming Democrat leadership at the state agency. The inquiry, he said, was a "formality" and the group is confident it will be cleared quickly.
"We are the biggest lightning-rod non profit ever," he told BuzzFeed News in a series of Twitter private messages.
The triple-amputee Iraq war veteran said a "state senator for Florida" had inquired about the investigation for We Build The Wall and relayed that "it was about 'one detail with our corporate governance' and could get resolved today after our attorney shows them what was submitted to the IRS for our non profit status."
"Only a fool would believe we haven't crossed every 'T' and dotted every 'i'," Kolfage said.
Yet almost immediately after launching as a GoFundMe effort, We Build the Wall was marred by legal trouble, clashing with local and federal agencies over its project. After finishing the half-mile wall in Sunland Park, New Mexico, in May, the group was accused by local officials and the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) of not first obtaining the required work permits.
Kolfage stated on Twitter that the group had "planned for battle" and rushed the project during a holiday weekend "when the corrupt city was partying." The tweet was later deleted.
Sunland Park and We Build the Wall had said they were working to get the project into compliance. But a month later, officials told BuzzFeed News the required permits still had not been obtained, and that the city had filed a complaint against the owner of the land the wall was built on.
The IBWC also accused We Build the Wall of building a gate for the wall on federal land without permits or authorization, and cutting off access to waterways and a public monument.
According to emails obtained by BuzzFeed News, We Build the Wall was told about the permits and studies required to build the gate on federal land, but the group decided to move ahead with construction regardless.
"We are literally making a mountain out of a mole hill," Rich Kaye, an attorney representing We Build the Wall, wrote to the IBWC on June 3. The following day, Kolfage tweeted video of the gate being built.
IBWC officials have since ordered the gate be kept open during daytime work hours. They have also said that the half-mile structure has not stopped the flow of people crossing the border illegally, instead channeling them to cross at a nearby dam and creating a "safety and security problem."
Kolfage has retorted by accusing, without citing any evidence, Sunland Park and IBWC officials of corruption and working with Mexican drug cartels.