We Build the Wall Founder Indicted for Tax Fraud
Founder of We Build the Wall, Brian Kolfage, was recently indicted by a federal grand jury in Pensacola, Florida, for filing a false tax return and wire fraud.
According to reports, Kolfage failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars from the nonprofit, in addition to other organizations on his 2019 personal tax return.
“We will investigate and prosecute those who falsely misrepresent their income—whether by traditional evasion or failing to disclose charitable contributions diverted to their personal gain,” said Jason Coody, acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida, in a statement.
We Build the Wall Background
A disabled Air Force veteran, 39-year-old Kolfage launched the We Build the Wall campaign in 2018, raising millions of dollars through GoFundMe to privately construct sections of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. From December 2018 through May 2019, the fundraiser had received support from over 300,000 donors, with average donations amounting to $67. Donations from the time were reported to have totaled more than $20 million with a $1 billion goal.
Steve Bannon, who previously served as White House chief strategist and was a chair for the group’s advisory board, claimed that the private project would connect two 21-mile sections of fencing already in place.
In May 2019, the group broke ground on the border wall construction on private property in New Mexico. Kris Kobach, former Kansas secretary of state, told CNN at the time that half a mile of border wall was already complete, costing between $6 million and $8 million.
Fisher Sand & Gravel was the contractor hired for the work.
However, work efforts were short-lived, as the mayor of Sunland Park, New Mexico, issued a cease-and-desist order to stop construction after project plans came to light. Sunland Park Mayor Javier Perea noted at the time that the wall violated ordinances regarding structure height and that the group also did not complete necessary for permits necessary for the work. Additional disputes over the project involved the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission.
City spokesperson Peter Ibardo told The Texas Tribune that no recent surveys or site plans had been submitted to the city. Kobach claimed earlier that week that the owner of the property went through the necessary permitting process, and that inspectors were on site before work commenced.
Ibardo noted in turn that the permit had been acquired late the week before and when it was submitted, it was incomplete. Inspectors also reportedly tried to visit the site, but were turned away when an attempt was made, according to the Tribune.
According to a Tweet from Kolfage posted a week after the halt, construction was given the green light to proceed, and permits had been reissued.
By August of 2020, a New York grand jury charged Kolfage, Bannon and two others with defrauding donors to “We Build the Wall.” According to the charges, Kolfage defrauded the donors in claiming that he received no salary from the organization and that 100% of donations were put toward its mission. However, according to court documents filed by the U.S. Attorney's office in the Southern District of New York, Kolfage had received $350,000 from the proceeds and Bannon allegedly received $1 million.
While the case against Kolfage and the unnamed others is still ongoing, Bannon was pardoned by former President Donald Trump during his last day in office this past January. Regardless, Bloomberg reports that New York law enforcement officer, Letitia James, has continued to investigate whether Bannon defrauded contributors to the wall fund-raising campaign.
Following the August indictment, the organization’s bank accounts were frozen by the SDNY. At the time, We Build the Wall claimed to have been in the process of selecting a third border wall site. In total, the organization constructed two sections of border wall using the donations, one in Sunland Park, New Mexico and Mission, Texas, along the Rio Grande River, measuring about five miles.
According to federal prosecutors, Kolfage deposited hundreds of thousands of dollars collected from different organizations, including We Build the Wall, into his personal bank account. However, when filing his personal 2019 tax return, Kolfage had listed his total income in the amount of $67,754, inciting a wire fraud charge for failing to report the funds he received from the campaigns.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Kolfage is scheduled to appear in federal court in Pensacola on May 27 and is being represented by Harvey A. Steinberg.
The case is U.S. v. Kolfage, 21-cr-29, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida.