The founder of a national scam that bilked $25 million from MAGA Republicans just got sentenced to prison by a federal judge along with one of his co-conspirators.
Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage was the face of the WeBuildTheWall nonprofit headquartered in a strip mall mailbox store in Florida’s Panhandle.
Now he, along with co-conspirator Andrew Badolato, is going to prison.
It’s the latest fallout from a story this author published about Kolfage’s luxurious lifestyle, which he posted all over social media after loudly and expressly promising not to earn a penny off his nonprofit group.
Eventually, that story and others by this reporter led to his indictment and arrest alongside the former Trump White House senior advisor Steve Bannon. The New York Times reports:
On Wednesday, Judge Analisa Torres of Federal District Court in Manhattan sentenced Mr. Badolato to three years in prison and Mr. Kolfage to four years and three months in prison, saying their crimes had a “chilling effect on civic participation in the political realm.”
“It’s heartbreaking because I really do believe in crowdfunding and the nuts and bolts of what the project was supposed to be,” says Dustin Stockton, former VP of WeBuildTheWall, who was not involved in the payment scheme or charged in any way in exclusive comments to Washington Press, “instead of this being the greatest crowdfunding achievement of all time, it set back the people’s ability to use these tools to do great things.”
“It is the most ridiculous statement to even associate my boat with anything related to this,” Kolfage wrote to this author on May 12th, 2019, after his exorbitant lifestyle led a former Fox News guest to tell on him.
“It is evident that you wrote about Mr. Kolfage to attract more attention to yourself and to your blog, and by so doing falsely accused him of fraudulently diverting money from a fundraiser—a crime that he did not commit,” wrote Kolfage’s lawyer in a defamation lawsuit threat to this author that year.
Prosecutors cited his yacht “Warfighter” the following year as one of the reasons he needed money from the nonprofit.
Kolfage’s lawyers called him only a “symbolic leader” of the group when begging the court for leniency, placing the blame on co-defendant Badolato and his twice-indicted co-conspirator, Bannon.
It was the triple-amputee Kolfage who started a GoFundMe page, raising $20 million to build the ex-president’s border wall using private funds.
When he learned that Americans can’t just give money to the federal government and get it to act—Congress must still spend the money—it looked like the GoFundMe cash would all be returned.
Instead, he linked up with Bannon, Badolato, and Timothy Shea, who was convicted during his re-trial last October and created a Florida nonprofit named WeBuildTheWall Inc.
They secured pledges for $14 million of the original $20 million raised for the new project to build on private land with their funds.
They would go on to raise another $11 million over the next 18 months.
Kolfage promised not to earn a penny after striking fundraising gold.
He loudly told anyone who would listen that the group’s bylaws prohibited him from being compensated. When this reporter requested a copy of the bylaws to back up his statements, Kolfage replied by email to say:
“My time with WBTW is volunteer. I will never take a penny from it. It’s even in our bylaws that I receive no compensation.”
Prosecutors alleged that the fraud took place when they published on their website and spoke to the media and in their solicitations, saying that Kolfage would not get paid.
In contrast, his actual pay arrangements with his co-conspirators were “confidential” and on a “need to know” basis only.
The four men turned around and re-routed a million dollars to themselves, using one of Bannon’s non-profits, Citizens of the American Republic (COAR), as a conduit, as well as fake vendors and other ruses.
Bannon is the last of the co-conspirators and is expected to face trial in November after receiving a presidential pardon on federal charges but getting slapped with state charges by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
His original criminal defense team quit in January and sued him for $500,000 in unpaid bills in February, leaving the status of the trial date up in the air.
Find more information here:
My reporting caused this indictment.https://t.co/TPob6Tp8rb— Grant Stern (@grantstern) May 7, 2021