Brian Kolfage, the disabled Air Force veteran who pleaded guilty last year to fraud in connection with a public fundraising campaign he co-founded known as “We Build the Wall,” was sentenced this week to more than four years in prison.
Kolfage, 41, of Miramar Beach, Florida, received a sentence of 51 months. His associate, Andrew Badoloto, was sentenced to three years in prison, while a third associate, Thomas Shea, is scheduled to be sentenced in June, according to the Justice Department.
“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,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams on Wednesday.
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Kolfage is a former Security Forces airman who was severely wounded while serving in Iraq in 2004, losing both legs and a hand. In December 2018 Kolfage and Shea began soliciting donations on the fundraising platform GoFundMe for “We Build the Wall,” which promised to help fund the construction of a wall along the U.S./Mexico border. The campaign raised more than $25 million from more than 320,000 individual donors.
In February 2019, given that it was not, in fact, possible to simply donate the money to the federal government, Kolfage announced that all donations would be re-routed to a non-profit called We Build the Wall, Inc., that would help construct the border wall itself. The non-profit was run by Kolfage, Badolato, and Steve Bannon, a former senior advisor to President Donald Trump.
Kolfage repeatedly made public assurances that he would “not take a penny in salary or compensation,” and that all of the money raised would “be used in the execution of our mission and purpose.”
Instead of building any kind of border wall, much of what was being spent by the non-profit was going towards the personal expenses of its founders. Kolfage received more than $350,000, which was spent on everything from buying a 40-foot fishing boat to home renovations, a luxury SUV, a golf cart, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, and paying off credit card debt. The money was routed to Kolfage through “fake invoices and sham contracts,” according to the Justice Department.
Bannon is accused of taking more than $1 million from the non-profit. He was pardoned by Trump in 2021, although he is currently awaiting trial in New York for fraud related to We Build the Wall, Inc.
At his sentencing, Kolfage told U.S. District Judge Annalisa Torres that he was “remorseful, disgusted, humiliated,” according to National Public Radio.
He added that, “I made a promise not to personally benefit and I broke that promise.”
In addition to his prison sentence, Kolfage and Badolato will have to repay the approximately $25 million that was donated as restitution.
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