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Miramar Beach wounded warrior indicted along with Steve Bannon in border wall scheme

Jim Thompson
Washington County News

MIRAMAR BEACH — Brian Kolfage, the Miramar Beach wounded warrior who founded a nonprofit organization that raised $25 million, ostensibly to fund private construction of sections of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, has been indicted on federal charges of defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors who contributed to the effort.

Kolfage, 39, is an Air Force veteran who lost both legs and an arm in a 2004 rocket attack on an air base in Iraq, and in subsequent years became a noted conservative activist.

More (Jan. 2019):Local wounded warrior changes focus on GoFundMe border wall initiative

More (June 2019):First section of private border wall completed

Also charged in the scheme is Steve Bannon, former chief strategist in President Donald Trump's White House, and two other men.

Kolfage is alleged to have covertly taken $350,000 in funds donated to his nonprofit We Build The Wall, Inc. If eventually convicted and sentenced to the maximum possible penalties for the single counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, Kolfage could spend 40 years in jail, according to a Thursday news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.

The case is being pursued in the Southern District of New York because at least some of the victims of the alleged scam resident within that court's jurisdiction.

Bannon, who is alleged to have taken more than $1 million from We Build The Wall Inc. in the alleged scheme, also is charged with single counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, as are the other two men indicted in the case.

More (May 2019):Work begins on private border wall paid for through Florida man’s GoFundMe

More (Nov. 2019):We Build The Wall eyes second section of private border barrier

The other indictments were handed down against Andrew Badolato, a Sarasota County, Florida resident who reportedly has been involved in previous questionable business deals with Bannon, and Timothy Shea, a Castle Rock, Colorado man who is alleged to have set up shell corporations through which money donated to the wall construction effort was funneled to Kolfage.

All of the men were arrested Thursday and appeared in initial federal court proceedings across the United States on Thursday. Kolfage appeared in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Hope T. Cannon in the federal courthouse in Pensacola at 11 a.m. Thursday. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in the Southern District of New York.

The unsealing of the indictments against the four men was announced Thursday by Audrey Strauss, acting United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Philip R. Bartlett, Inspector-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS). The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in the Southern District of New York.

Brian Kolfage celebrates in front of a section of border wall ostensibly funded through the nonprofit organization We Build The Waldl, which he founded. Kolfage and three other men have been indicted by federal authorities on charges of defrauding donors to the wall construction effort [ASSOCIATED PRESS]

Commenting on the case in the Thursday news release, Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said that as alleged in the indictments, Kolfage, Bannon and the other two men "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." 

Bartlett added that, as alleged in the indictments, the men also "schemed to hide their misappropriation of funds by creating sham invoices and accounts to launder donations and cover up their crimes, showing no regard for the law or the truth."

Kolfage began raising funds in December 2018, initially announcing a plan to raise $1 billion to assist the federal government in its efforts to build a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. As it became clear donations would not reach that level, Kolfage announced the creation of We Build The Wall Inc., with the stated goal of building sections of a border wall.

Kolfage did not immediately return telephone messages left for him on Thursday morning seeking comment on the indictment.