After once claiming that two criminal cases against him were politically motivated, Brian Kolfage admitted in court on Thursday that he conspired to secretly take more than $350,000 of the millions of dollars he received in donations to build a private border wall.
The founder of the viral We Build the Wall campaign agreed to give up more than $17.8 million and also pleaded guilty to fraud in a deal with federal prosecutors he previously called “holes.” corrupt ass”.
“I prompted donors to opt for the new project in part because of the misrepresentation that I would not benefit from We Build the Wall or receive a salary or compensation,” Kolfage said, reading a prepared statement. . “I knowingly and willfully conspired to receive donation money.”
Kolfage publicly promised he would not take money from online fundraising and nonprofits, but instead prosecutors say he and others from We Build The Wall used fake invoices and fake suppliers to siphon off hundreds of thousands of dollars for themselves.
During the videoconference hearing in the Southern District of New York, Kolfage also admitted in the statement to having submitted a false 2019 tax return, in which he did not disclose the money he withdrew from the supposed non-profit organization.
Under a plea agreement, Kolfage will also have to pay at least $143,003 in unpaid taxes.
“I filed the tax return electronically,” he said. “I knew what I was doing was wrong and a crime.”
As part of his plea deal, Kolfage agreed to serve 51 to 63 months in prison, as well as pay a fine of $20,000 to $200,000 in addition to the $17.8 million in forfeiture. Andrew Badolato, another We Build the Wall employee, also pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The judge has yet to approve the deal, however. Under current sentencing guidelines, Kolfage could face up to 46 years in prison for the charges.
Steve Bannon, an adviser to former President Donald Trump, also faced fraud charges and allegations he secretly took $1 million from the Border Wall fundraising project, but was pardoned by Trump in the final hours of his administration.
Under the plea agreement, Kolfage’s We Build The Wall organization will also be required to withdraw claims over money raised by the organization, including more than $1 million held in a bank account.
The government may also seize other Kolfage assets in replacement of the $17 million he agreed to pay, or items paid for by the money taken from the donations. In a previous indictment, Kolfage was accused of using We Build The Wall donations to pay for home renovations, an SUV, a golf cart, cosmetic surgery and payments for a boat.
Last week, Kolfage’s wife noted on Instagram that they were selling their Range Rover.
Thursday’s comments in court had a completely different tone than the Iraq War veteran, who often took a defiant and insulting stance against people who questioned his integrity or challenged his selfless service story.
After suffering devastating injuries that caused him to lose his legs and a hand during his military service, Kolfage made his living starting websites and social media pages that peddled misinformation, which eventually led him to be permanently banned from Facebook.
In 2018, he launched an online fundraiser to build a private border wall along the southern border as then-President Donald Trump urged his supporters on the need for a physical barrier to protect the country. Kolfage claimed that the money he raised would be donated to the federal government but, after it became clear that the money could not be earmarked specifically for a border fence, Kolfage founded We Build the Wall, promising to take charge of the construction.
The effort drew a roster of conservative figures, including Donald Trump Jr., who made a personal appearance at the site of one of the construction projects in Sunland Park, New Mexico, to help raise more money. money for the organization.
The group partnered with Fisher Sand & Gravel, a construction company, for the New Mexico wall and a second wall in Mission, Texas, where the company said We Build the Wall suddenly pulled out after having paid just $1.5 million on an $8 million project.
Throughout the construction projects, Kolfage has launched baseless claims against city officials, federal entities and a butterfly sanctuary that have raised objections, including allegations that construction proceeded without proper permits. required or studies showing environmental impacts.
Kolfage also made false alarmist claims, including that Ebola-infected immigrants tried to cross the border, as he publicly called for more donations for We Build the Wall. (The Ebola allegation has been repeatedly refuted by authorities.)
In the Sunland Park project, for example, Kolfage claimed on social media that the proposed wall met all the necessary administrative requirements, while simultaneously claiming that construction was rushed over a three-day weekend to surprise officials. from the city.
Kolfage continued to make similar statements during his federal trial.
“The SDNY and the corrupt DOJ want to force me to shut up and probably take a plea deal with more bogus charges,” Kolfage wrote in an Instagram post last year. “NOT A CHANCE. These corrupt assholes are coming for anyone who has supported Trump at a high level.”
While Kolfage pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to launder money and wire fraud in connection with filing a false tax return, prosecutors pointed out that in a recent article this month, Kolfage claimed he was pleading guilty because “They got me Michael Flynn.”
The comment referred to the former Trump administration national security adviser who pleaded guilty in federal court to lying about his contacts with Russian officials. Flynn was later pardoned by Trump in the final weeks of his administration.
On Thursday, Judge Analisa Torres pressed Kolfage for her comments.
“Are you pleading guilty voluntarily? she asked
“Yes, your honor,” Kolfage said.
“And you plead guilty because you are guilty,” she said.
“Yes, your honor.”