The founder of a fundraising group connected to Steve Bannon that pledged to help Donald Trump build a wall on the southern U.S. border was given a prison sentence of four years and three months on Wednesday for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from contributors.
Brian Kolfage, an Air Force veteran who was decorated for his service but lost both his legs and an arm in the Iraq War, previously confessed to his part in embezzling donations from the We Build the Wall campaign.
Financier Andrew Badolato, a co-defendant, was also sentenced to three years for assisting the scheme. He also pleaded guilty. Colorado businessman Tim Shea, who was involved in the diversion of funds from the wall project, will not be sentenced until June. Kolfage and Badolato were also ordered to pay $25 million in restitution to victims.
Absent from the case was Bannon, Trump’s former top political adviser. Although he was initially arrested on board a luxury yacht and faced federal fraud charges with the other men, Trump pardoned him during his last hours in office.
Radical Leftist Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg lodged new, state charges against Bannon last year. He is awaiting trial. Presidential pardons apply only to federal crimes, not state offences. Bannon called the case “nonsense.”
Prosecutors said that Kolfage was the mastermind behind the plan, which raised more than $25 million from donors across the country, and was the public face of the campaign. He continually assured the public that he would not “take a penny” from the campaign.
As money flowed into the cause, Kolfage and his partner, Shea, sought Bannon and Badolato’s assistance in establishing a non-profit, We Build the Wall, Inc. The four defendants then took measures to channel the money to themselves for personal gain, according to prosecutors.
Kelly Kramer, Badolato’s lawyer, described Bannon as “a leader and principal beneficiary” of the scam, noting that his own client received a far smaller payout than the pardoned partner. Although prosecutors acknowledged that Badolato earned the least of the four defendants, they referred to him as the “connective tissue” between Kolfage and Bannon, assisting in directing kickbacks between the two parties.
Kolfage, aged 41, told Judge Analisa Torres that he was “remorseful, disgusted, humiliated.” He claimed he hadn’t anticipated the amount of donations that would flood in for the cause and found himself moving away from his initial goal, which he said was “putting a spotlight on the country’s broken immigration system.”
“I made a promise not to personally benefit, and I broke that promise,” he said. Torres stated that the defendants not only deceived their donors but contributed to a “chilling effect on civic participation” by besmirching the reputation of political fundraising. “The fraudsters behind We Build The Wall injured the body politic,” she said.
According to prosecutors, Kolfage received more than $350,000 in donor funds, which he spent on personal expenses such as boat payments, a luxury SUV, and cosmetic surgery. Bannon was accused of taking over $1 million through a separate non-profit and secretly paying some of it back to Kolfage. Prosecutors stated that Badolato, aged 58, and Shea also stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from fundraisers.
As part of a plea deal, Kolfage and Badolato agreed not to dispute a sentence within the agreed-upon range: four to five years for Kolfage and 3 1/2 to four years for Badolato. An attorney for Kolfage previously argued that his client should avoid prison time due to his lack of a criminal record and severe disability.
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