Kolfage says politics, misunderstanding behind fraud conspiracy indictment
MIRAMAR BEACH — Brian Kolfage, the local wounded warrior under federal indictment for an alleged conspiracy to commit money laundering and wire fraud in connection with his nonprofit initiative to privately construct sections of a U.S.-Mexico border wall, says prosecutors have confused his other business dealings with the nonprofit We Build The Wall Inc. in a misguided prosecution of the case.
Kolfage also said that prosecution of the case — which includes former Trump White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, Sarasota County resident Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, a Castle Rock, Colorado, man, as defendants — is politically motivated.
Badolato reportedly has been involved in previous questionable business dealings with Bannon, and Shea is alleged to have set up shell corporations through which money donated to We Build The Wall Inc. were funneled to Kolfage. All four men are charged with single counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. If convicted and sentenced to the maximum possible penalties for the single counts of each alleged crime, Kolfage and the other men could spend 40 years in prison.
"We feel the whole thing is politically motivated, considering the timing of it," Kolfage said in a recent telephone interview, which he said he granted after his attorney, Denver lawyer Harvey Steinberg, told him it was OK to speak with the media.
In the interview, Kolfage noted that the indictments against him and the other three men were handed down in late August, just three months before the presidential election in which Trump will face Democratic contender and former U.S. vice president and senator Joe Biden.
Noting Bannon's role in Trump's successful 2016 campaign, Kolfage said the prosecution of the case against him, Bannon, Shea and Badolato is "politically motivated, 100 percent."
Prosecutors in the federal Southern District of New York, where the case was brought — at least some donors to the We Build The Wall effort reside in the area covered by the Southern District — "rushed this indictment out to hurt the president and to try to tie him to us," Kolfage said.
"They put it out right before the election," Kolfage said. "It's wrong to do this; it's an injustice."
Kolfage also said prosecutors pursued the case to get We Build The Wall's donor list.
"They want to see who these people are who are donating to these powerful conservative causes," said Kolfage, who characterized the case against him and the other men as a "big fishing expedition."
Broadly, the grand jury indictment handed down against Kolfage and the other men contends that, despite assurances that Kolfage would not be compensated for his work with the nonprofit We Build The Wall, he covertly took more than $350,000 from the organization while Bannon used a nonprofit organization of his own to take more than $1 million from We Build The Wall.
Badolato and Shea allegedly were involved in a scheme to use fake invoices and sham "vendor" agreements to steer the money to Kolfage.
One of those vendor agreements was allegedly paid to Kolfage's wife, a circumstance which Kolfage disputed during the interview.
"My wife never received a penny," he said.
Kolfage noted that his own finances — he and his family live in a house built and given to them by the Gary Sinise Foundation, and he receives thousands of dollars annually through the federal Department of Veterans Affairs in connection with his injuries — would indicate that there was no need for him to steer money away from We Build The Wall Inc.
The indictment also notes Kolfage's acquisition of a luxury fishing boat and an upscale SUV, which Kolfage said in the recent interview that he had acquired before creation of We Build The Wall Inc.
Kolfage would not provide bills of sale documenting the purchases, but he did provide a buyer's order for the boat from 2017, and offered Instagram photos from 2015 and 2017, respectively, that show two Range Rover SUVs he claimed to have owned.
"Everything in that indictment, it's not true," Kolfage claimed.
Asked to make his side of the case, Kolfage largely demurred, saying at one point that he and the other defendants "are not going to explain the story in the media, it's going to come out in court."
However, Kolfage said at least some text messages intercepted during the investigation had nothing to do with We Build The Wall Inc.
"They took things that are completely out of context," Kolfage said, "I have a lot of different business things going on, and not all of it has anything to do with We Build The Wall. ... The devil is in the details on this case."
Pressed for details, Kolfage would say only, "I do a lot of marketing for different political campaigns, companies and products."
Kolfage would not name any of the campaigns, companies or products with which he worked, instead opting to continue making political accusations.
"This is a head-hunting thing by the left-wing media," he said.
"No one was steering funds," Kolfage added, continuing to make the argument that prosecutors didn't understand what was going on with We Build The Wall and his other interests.
Kolfage's wall-building effort began in late 2018 as a GoFundMe campaign aimed at raising money to assist the federal government with border wall construction. But in early 2019, with donations stalled at about $20 million, Kolfage, who lost both legs and an arm in a 2004 rocket attack in Iraq, established the nonprofit organization to fund private construction of the border wall.
The nonprofit, operating with money shifted from the GoFundMe effort — GoFundMe donors were given the option of having their money rolled over to the nonprofit, or getting a refund — spent $8.5 million on an almost mile-long section of border wall in Sunland Park, New Mexico, and allocated an additional $1.5 million to construction of a 3.5-mile section of wall built by a contractor operating separately from the nonprofit, Kolfage said.
Earlier this year, according to Kolfage, the nonprofit's board of directors voted to give him a salary, which Kolfage said was legal as long as that compensation came from new donations.
"The funds for my salary were approved by lawyers," said Kolfage, who added that the salary came as the nonprofit was expanding its operations to include educational and community engagement events addressing what he called the "border crisis."
As far as the wall construction, Kolfage said that the nonprofit had been working with the federal Department of Homeland Security to investigate a list of projects for which the department had indicated it needed some help.
"We were going to pay for those," said Kolfage, who added that since his indictment he has become less familiar with the nonprofit's work.
"I'm not sure exactly, because I'm keeping my distance from it," he said. "I don't have a role."
Kolfage said he expects the conspiracy case to be resolved quickly.
"We don't think it's' going to go on long," he said. "It's such an overreach, we believe it's going to have to be thrown out."