Court documents shed light on We Build the Wall Kolfage fraud case
MIRAMAR BEACH — A status conference on the federal wire fraud and money laundering charges lodged against local wounded warrior Brian Kolfage is scheduled for Thursday afternoon via teleconference through the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, according to recent court filings.
In the meantime, recently unsealed court documents provide additional insights into proceedings against Kolfage, a retired Air Force senior airman who lost both legs and his right hand in a 2004 rocket attack in Iraq.
Kolfage would go on to become involved in a number of conservative causes, and in 2018 he began a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to help the federal government build sections of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. By early 2019, with donations stalled at $20 million, Kolfage created the nonprofit We Build The Wall Inc. to fund private construction of sections of border wall.
Ultimately, the nonprofit would spend $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.
But in August, Kolfage was indicted by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York — some donations to the nonprofit came from within that court's jurisdiction — on charges that $350,000 in donations were improperly steered to him.
Indicted along with Kolfage were former Trump administration political strategist Steve Bannon, to whom $1 million in donations were allegedly improperly steered. Also indicted were Florida resident Andrew Badolato of Sarasota County and Denver businessman Timothy Shea, both charged with being involved in steering the nonprofit's money to Kolfage.
The four men each face a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison in a prosecution that Kolfage has maintained is politically motivated.
Recent filings in the case include the unsealing of a motion filed on behalf of Kris Kobach, counsel to We Build The Wall, seeking to have at least some of the nonprofit's funds released in order to pay Kobach and meet other obligations of We Build The Wall Inc.
The unsealed motion, made publicly available Tuesday, confirms that We Build the Wall Inc., created in late 2018 as a Florida nonprofit organization, was "administratively dissolved" by the state "for missing a September 18, 2020, deadline to make a filing and pay a $61.25 annual fee."
Reinstating We Build The Wall would require reapplying to the state of Florida and paying a $175 reinstatement fee. As of Wednesday, the Division of Corporations of the Florida Department of State continued to list We Build The Wall as "inactive" and indicated that the administrative dissolution had been filed in September, a month after grand jury indictments were handed down against Kolfage and the three other defendants.
There are only two other documents in the Division of Corporation's file on We Build The Wall, and neither provides any information on the nonprofit organization's finances.
The nonprofit's website remains accessible, and includes an option to make a donation, although not via the website itself. Instead, the website directs donors to send donations to a Houston, Texas, post office box. According to brief online research done Wednesday, that post office box belongs to a computer processing services business.
Also unsealed and filed for public access this week was an Aug. 24 order from Southern District Judge Analisa Torres, who is hearing the case. Filed just days after the indictments of Kolfage and the other three defendants were announced, Torres' order mandated that none of the defendants was to transfer, sell or otherwise dispose or diminish the value of assets in three bank accounts.
Two of the accounts belong to We Build The Wall, while the third belongs to Citizens of the American Republic, a nonprofit organization founded by Bannon in 2017. On its website, the nonprofit urges potential donors to "maximize your citizenship value, by promoting policies that put American citizens first!"
The judge's August order also restrains any attempts to dispose or otherwise deal with a 40-foot fishing boat belonging to Kolfage and a 2018 Ranger Rover also belonging to Kolfage. Kolfage has said he had purchased the boat and the car in advance of establishing We Build The Wall Inc.
Another recent filing — a letter from Kolfage's counsel, Denver attorney Harvey Steinberg, to Torres — indicates that Kolfage might have trouble covering the costs of his legal defense.
In the letter, Steinberg notes that We Build the Wall has insurance to cover the cost of Kolfage's defense, but the nonprofit's insurer, while agreeing that Kolfage is insured and has a right to defense costs, says that coverage comes "only after We Build the Wall covers ... (a) 'retention' amount of $125,000."
Steinberg goes on to say that federal prosecutors' position on holding the nonprofit's assets "is not only preventing We Build the Wall from paying Mr. Kolfage’s and We Build the Wall’s counsel, but is also preventing Mr. Kolfage from obtaining insurance coverage for his defense costs."
Kobach has argued in previous filings that donations received after Jan. 1 of this year, when the nonprofit announced that it would be paying Kolfage a salary, meant money he received from that point forward was not part of any fraud.