August 21, 2020
You’ve probably never heard of Brian Kolfage. He was the founder of “We Build the Wall,” a grassroots effort to raise money, through the internet platform Gofundme, to build a wall on the U.S-Mexico border.
Within the last week, he made news when he tweeted, “Because @Gofundme supports the racist attacks by #blackLivesMatter, @WeBuildtheWall has officially deleted its campaign from their site and we are moving to @FundRzr We had the largest Gofundme campaign in history.”
While Kolfage fumed at Black Lives Matter for their “racism” he boasted about his efforts to keep latinx out of America by producing the largest fundraiser in internet history.
However, that wasn’t the biggest story of the week for Kolfage and his associates. In fact, Kolfage wasn’t even the biggest story in his own big story. Former President Donald Trump campaign CEO and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was indicted in New York on fraud charges related to the We Build the Wall campaign.
Manhattan federal prosecutors and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service allege that Bannon, Kolfage and two others “received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds from We Build the Wall, which they each used in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s public representations.”
Bannon is another in a line of former Trump advisors that have ended up on the wrong side of the law. Bannon was brought on as the chief executive officer of President Trump’s presidential campaign after a staff shakeup just months before the election.
He left his job at Breitbart News, an agency Bannon described as ”(T)he platform for the alt-right,” to help refocus Trump’s campaign message.
Bannon pushed the Trump campaign, and later the administration, toward race-baiting through the buzz words of crime, immigration and foreign competition. According to former newspaper editor Tom Murse, writing on ThoughtCo.com, “Under his stewardship, Breitbart has emerged as the leading source for the extreme views of a vocal minority who peddle bigotry and promote hate.”
Bannon later infused racism, hate and fear mongering into the first seven months of the Trump administration as chief White House strategist.
Bannon was a strong proponent of the border wall. After leaving the White House he latched on to We Build the Wall seemingly with the intent of being an altruistic “volunteer” leader of a campaign to fulfill his vision of halting illegal immigration and helping his former boss fulfill his campaign promise.
We have now learned that was not exactly what Bannon had in mind. Bannon and his co-conspirators started in December 2018 to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors from the We Build the Wall campaign that raised more than $25 million.
Part of the conspiracy to induce donors was Kolfage repeatedly assuring the public that 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” and Bannon publicly stated, “we’re a volunteer organization.”
It appears that Bannon and Kolfage lied. In truth, the two of them and their co-conspirators allegedly took hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds. The U.S. Attorney’s office said in a statement, Kolfage took for his personal use more than $350,000 in funds. Bannon funneled to a non-profit organization under his control over $1 million - much of it used for personal expenses.
The conspirators set up non-profits and shell corporations to conceal the fraud. They furthered the fraud by using fake invoices and sham “vendor” arrangements to ensure, as Kolfage noted in a text message, that his pay arrangement remained “confidential” and kept on a “need-to-know” basis.
Inspector-in-Charge Philip R. Bartlett of the New York Field Division of the United States Postal Inspection Service said in a statement, “This case should serve as a warning to other fraudsters that no one is above the law, not even ... a millionaire political strategist.”
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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