Documents: Kolfage associates believed no-salary claim would make him a 'saint'
MIRAMAR BEACH — High-level associates of Florida-based nonprofit We Build The Wall Inc., now under federal indictment for fraud, believed that falsely claiming its founder, local wounded warrior Brian Kolfage, wasn't taking any compensation, would ensure funding for the initiative created ostensibly to build walls along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to documents unsealed last week.
Kolfage and three other men, including former Trump White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, were indicted recently by a grand jury in the Southern District of New York, each on single counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection with We Build The Wall Inc.
Also indicted were Sarasota County, Florida, investor Andrew Badolato, who had previous business dealings with Bannon, and Timothy Shea, a Castle Rock, Colorado, real estate agent with a history of involvement in conservative causes.
According to the indictment, the four men believed that as the wall-funding effort was transitioning from an online GoFundMe campaign that raised $20 million to the nonprofit corporation, insisting that Kolfage was not taking any compensation for leading the group would prompt GoFundMe donors to opt in to transferring that money to the nonprofit organization.
However, the indictment notes, within days of the creation of We Build The Wall Inc. Kolfage, "working primarily with Bannon and Badolato, reached a secret agreement whereby Kolfage would be covertly paid 100K upfront [and] then 20 (thousand) per month." The indictment goes on to note that the money was passed to Kolfage indirectly from We Build The Walll through third parties, including entities controlled by Bannon and Shea.
At the time, the indictment goes on to say, Kolfage was urging the public to buy coffee from his own coffee company — that enterprise is unrelated to the alleged fraud scheme — saying it was the only source of income for him and his family.
Also according to the indictment, an email exchange between Bannon and Badolato stressed the value of the assertion that Kolfage wasn't being compensated, with Badolato asserting it would become "'the most talked-about media narrative ever' since it 'removes all self-interest taint' and 'gives Brian Kolfage saint hood (sic).'"
According to the indictment, most donors did, in fact, opt to have their donations transferred from GoFundMe to We Build The Wall Inc., but they did so under the impression that Kolfage would not be compensated.
"Some of those donors wrote directly to Kolfage that they did not have a lot of money and were skeptical about online fundraising campaigns but they were giving what they could because they trusted Kolfage would keep his word about how their donations were being spent," the indictment noted.
And, according to the indictment, "Kolfage also wrote to prospective donors who raised concerns, assuring the donors in private messages that he was not being compensated."
In all, through October of 2019, donations to We Build The Wall, including the money transferred from the GoFundMe effort, would grow to $25 million, according to the indictment.
Initially, the $20,000 monthly payments to Kolfage were routed through a second nonprofit organization controlled by Bannon, but after Kolfage noted that We Build The Wall would have to report those payments, the money was routed to Kolfage's wife, ostensibly for "media" services rendered to the Bannon-controlled nonprofit organization.
Also according to the indictment, money came to Kolfage through a shell company created by Shea.
Eventually, according to the indictment, all four men "received hundreds of thousands in donor funds from We Build The Wall, including among other things, travel, hotels, consumer goods and personal credit card debts."
The scheme began to unravel late last year, according to the indictment, when Kolfage, Bannon and Badolato learned from an unidentified financial institution that We Build The Wall Inc. was under federal investigation. At that point, Kolfage and Badolato began using encrypted cell phone communications, and in January of this year, We Build The Wall's website was changed to note that Kolfage would, in fact, be receiving a salary for his work with the organization.
In all, Kolfage reportedly received $350,000 in the scheme, and among the assets slated for forfeiture in connection with the indictment is an upscale boat, named "Warfighter," apparently purchased by Kolfage.
Photos of the boat have appeared across social media, including an apparent appearance in a pro-Trump boat parade earlier this summer in Destin.
Repeated attempts by the Daily News to contact Kolfage and We Build The Wall Inc. over the last few days have been unsuccessful. Messages on both Kolfage's and the organization's phones indicate only that the mailboxes are full, and leave no option for leaving a message.