Steve Bannon’s ‘Build the Wall’ Grifter Pal Is Facing Even More Fraud Charges

And unlike Bannon, he doesn't have a presidential pardon to make them go away.
May 7, 2021, 3:35pm
President Donald Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon speaks with reporters after pleading not guilty to charges that he ripped off donors to an online fundraising scheme to build a southern border wall, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, in New York. (AP P

Steve Bannon may have gotten off scot-free on a potential fraud conviction thanks to former President Donald Trump. A man alleged to be one of his co-conspirators, however, probably won’t be so lucky. 

Brian Kolfage was indicted last year along with Bannon and two others, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, for allegedly defrauding investors in a $25 million crowdfunding campaign to build Trump’s long-promised border wall with Mexico. But while Bannon received a pardon from his former boss in Trump’s final hours as president, Kolfage received no such pardon. And now he’s facing even more legal trouble.

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Kolfage was indicted by a federal grand jury in north Florida on Tuesday, court documents unsealed Thursday showed. The grand jury charged Kolfage with lying on his 2019 tax return, on which he claimed just over $63,000 in income despite knowing his real income was “materially in excess of that amount."

Due to his tax return, Kolfage was also slapped with an additional charge of scheming to defraud and wire fraud stemming from the crowdfunding campaign.

The We Build the Wall campaign started in January 2019 and raised more than $25 million, with an advisory board including former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Blackwater founder Erik Prince, ex-Congressman Tom Tancredo, and Bannon as chairman. Bannon portrayed the group as a “volunteer organization” and the campaign repeatedly said that Kolfage “would not take a penny in salary or compensation," according to the indictment last year

Kolfage was accused of taking more than $350,000 from the We Build the Wall campaign for his personal use, and Bannon was alleged to have funneled more than $1 million from the campaign through a nonprofit and also using hundreds of thousands for his own personal use. 

Prosecutors alleged that Kolfage, Bannon, Badolato, and Shea all “received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds from We Build the Wall, which they each used in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s public representations,” and purposefully shielded the payments to Kolfage using fake invoices, Bannon’s nonprofit, and a shell company operated by Shea. Shea. 

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Though Bannon was pardoned by Trump, prosecutors have so far refused to formally dismiss the charges against him themselves, saying in a court filing last month that there is “neither a need for an order dismissing the Indictment nor any authority mandating such an outcome” and that the Clerk of Court should dismiss the charges against Bannon which “conform[s] to the language and scope of the pardon.”

Kolfage is set to make his initial appearance in court to face the new charges on May 27. 

Along with a company called Fisher Industries, We Build the Wall also completed a three-mile-long project in Texas that was accused of violating an international treaty and of being defective (Fisher Industries is led by frequent Fox News guest Tommy Fisher and has received well over a billion in federal contracts). Trump said in a July 2020 tweet that he disagreed with using private money to build a wall along the Mexican border, one of his signature campaign promises, and that it was “only done to make me look bad, and perhsps [sic] it now doesn’t even work.”

Though the We Build the Wall website hasn’t given a formal update since January 2020, a sidebar highlights the video and claims the wall has “saved U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses related to illicit trafficking of drugs and human cargo.” The update also directs viewers to a website prompting Kolfage’s legal defense, fight4kolfage.com. 

“Regardless of the unconstitutional attacks by the SDNY, We Build the Wall serves as a staple for protecting Americans and ensuring legal immigration by forcing migrants to use legal ports of entry,” the update said. “It was by no mistake that GOP leaders chose this location for their speech today... We will be back, and building more wall under the Biden Administration.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story cited the wrong location for a March press conference held by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans. It was held in El Paso.