(DCWatchdog.com) – The US Justice Department has announced that two men found guilty of stealing money from the online crowdfunding campaign entitled “We Build The Wall” have been sentenced to prison.
“We Build The Wall” was started in 2018 by Brian Kolfage as a GoFundMe campaign and later became a nonprofit organization.
By mid-2020, it had managed to raise $25 million and build a 3-mile section of fence on the US-Mexican Border to help prevent illegal immigration.
According to US prosecutors, at least $350,000 of the raised funds illegally went for the founder’s personal use, while at least $1 million were siphoned off.
Subsequently, two of the nonprofit’s leaders, founder Kolfage, 41, and Andrew Badolato, 58, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
On Thursday, US District Judge Analisa Torres sentenced Kolfage to 51 months in prison and Badolato to 36 months in prison.
Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon was also charged alongside the founder. Then-President Donald Trump pardoned Bannon.
According to the court, Kolfage and Badolato defrauded their donors by “soliciting donations using false statements and then stealing the resulting donations.”
“Brian Kolfage and Andrew Badolato abused the trust of donors to We Build the Wall and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to line their own pockets. The defendants have now been held accountable for their criminal conduct,” US Attorney Damian Williams said.
The DOJ release points out that, after the launch of the initial fundraising in 2018, Kolfage stated publicly numerous times he would “not take a penny in salary or compensation” and that “100% of the funds raised…will be used in the execution of our mission and purpose.”
“Those representations were lies,” the Justice Department declares, saying Kolfage, Badolato, and others, including Timothy Shea, took hundreds of thousands of dollars from the “We Build The Wall” donations.
They also worked to hide that by “devising a scheme to route those payments through entities and bank accounts that they controlled.”
The DOJ said the “We Build The Wall” managers used fake contracts and invoices to conceal the siphoning of much of the donations. Because of those actions, Shea was found guilty of obstruction of justice.
“This was no ordinary financial fraud [because when victims donated to We Build the Wall,] they were expressing their views about a political issue that was important to them,” Judge Torres said.
“The fraud perpetrated by Mr. Kolfage and Mr. Badolato went well beyond defrauding individual donors. They hurt us all,” the judge added.
Besides the prison terms, Kolfage was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit $17.9 million and pay restitution for $2.9 million.
Badolato was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit $1.4 million and pay restitution for $1.4 million.