Veteran who tried to crowdfund $25m private border wall with Steve Bannon will plead guilty to fraud

Florida man told donors ‘not a penny’ would be taken

Gino Spocchia
Friday 08 April 2022 14:45 BST

Steve Bannon leaves court after pleading not guilty

A Iraq War veteran accused of defrauding donors out of $350,000 (£268,747) in a bid to build a southern border wall has now agreed to plead guilty, according to a court filing.

Brian Kolfage, of Miramar, Florida, was indicated in August 2020 alongside former Donald Trump aide Steve Bannon for allegedly scraping off the top of millions they raised to privately build the border wall.

Of the $25m (£19m) in GoFundMe donations, Mr Kolfage allegedly took $350,000 and Mr Bannon took $1m, prosecutors said. Both were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud with a third person, Timothy Shea. 

As Law&Crime reported last week, Mr Kolfage and Mr Shea agreed “in principle” to plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, in connection to the allegations.

“The parties are in the process of formalising their agreements and will submit executed copies thereof to the Court as soon as possible,” said assistant US Attorney Nicolas Roos wrote in a one-page filing on 25 March.

“In light of these developments, the parties jointly request that the Court adjourn sine die the parties’ pretrial filing deadlines presently set for March 28, 2022, and April 4, 2022, and schedule change of plea hearings for both defendants — during the week of March 28, 2022 for Shea and during the week of April 11, 2022 for Kolfage,” prosecutors wrote.

Both men face up to 40 years in prison for the charges, with Mr Kolfage also indicted in Florida on claims he filed false tax returns in the state in 2020. He has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors previously said Mr Kolfage and Mr Bannon – who was pardoned by Mr Trump during his final days in the White House – worked to defraud donors to the GoFundMe page for their “We Build the Wall” campaign between 2019 and 2020.

Mr Bannon pleaded not guilty to the charges in August 2020.

The scheme was advertised as an effort to copy the former US president’s efforts to build a border wall along the US southern border with Mexico, with Mr Kolfage telling supporters he would not take “a penny in salary or compensation” from the millions raised.

While the money was used to start construction on two small wall projects in Texas and New Mexico the funds were also allegedly taken by both men, who were accused of creating a shell company and fake invoices to receive the donated money, according to prosecutors.

Acting US attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement in August 2020:  “As alleged, the defendants defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalizing on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretense that all of that money would be spent on construction.”

“While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, would not be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle.”

According to Buzzfeed News, Mr Kolfage will change his plea on 21 April.

The Independent has approached the US attorney’s office for the southern district of New York for comment following the agreement, and an attorney for Mr Kolfage could not immediately be reached.

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