Two men plead guilty to border wall fundraising scam that Trump pardoned Steve Bannon for

Organisers had raised almost $25m and promised all donations would go to pay for border wall project

Sravasti Dasgupta
Friday 22 April 2022 07:41 BST
Related: Ex-Trump Aide Steve Bannon Gets Last-Minute Pardon

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Two men accused of defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors in a border wall building scam during Donald Trump’s presidency pleaded guilty to their crimes on Thursday.

Federal prosecutors had accused Brian Kolfage (39) and Andrew Badolato (57) of using thousands of dollars donated to an online crowdfunding campaign called We Build the Wall for personal expenses.

They pleaded guilty each to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud before US district judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan.

Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, had also been charged in the case but Mr Trump pardoned him in his final days as president. However, the pardon only covered federal crimes and Mr Bannon is being investigated under state law.

Mr Kolfage, a resident of Miramar, Florida, admitted to siphoning thousands of dollars which he had promised would go as donations to pay for the wall.

He pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy and tax charges, while Mr Badolato, who is a resident of Sarasota, Florida, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy.

The organisers of the campaign had raised almost $25m (£19.1m) and promised that all donations would go to pay for the wall.

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.

The two men had promised donors that the campaign was “a volunteer organisation” and that “100 per cent of the funds raised ... will be used in the execution of our mission and purpose”, the indictment stated.

According to the charges, Mr Kolfage, who is an Air Force veteran and a Purple Heart recipient, spent over $350,000 of the donations on personal expenses, including cosmetic surgery, a luxury SUV, a golf cart, payments toward a boat, home renovations, jewelry, personal tax payments and credit card debt.

Prosecutors said that Mr Bannon used more than $1m from We Build the Wall to “secretly” pay Mr Kolfage and cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in his personal expenses through a nonprofit under his control.

Mr Kolfage admitted in court that they had “induced donors to opt in to the new project” to build a border wall on private land.

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

The plea agreements entered by the two stated that they will not challenge court sentences within a stipulated guideline range.

For Mr Kolfage, the range is four to five years, while for Mr Badolato it is three-and-a-half years to four years.

They will be sentenced on 6 September.

Additional reporting by agencies

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