TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The founder of the 'We Build The Wall' campaign that went viral late last year has been indicted after being accused of defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors in connection with the crowdfunding campaign, which raised more than $25 million.
Florida opened an investigation into the online campaign in 2019.
WeBuildTheWall, Inc., a Panama City-based nonprofit, caught the attention of the nation but also the Department of Ag and Consumer Services.
A spokesperson with the department said investigators started looking at the charity, May 17. That was following a handful of complaints from people across the country, concerned the group isn’t doing what it says it is.
“As this matter is now an active investigation, the Department cannot comment further,” said the spokesperson in a brief statement. “No additional information is available at this time.”
Wendy Tien was one of the complainants. She’s an assistant attorney general in Minnesota, but notified Florida authorities of her concerns outside of her professional role.
Tien worried donors may not realize the charity has only applied for a 501(c)(4) status— meaning donations aren’t deductible. She also says it’s hard to tell what WeBuildTheWall is actually doing with its funding.
“That’s not really how it works under tax-exempt law,” she said. “You’re supposed to be accountable for the use of the money, so, the public knows whether any private individual benefited.
The viral effort was started by a wounded Iraq War veteran, Brian Kolfage, late last year. Money was supposed to be used to privately build border wall segments on private land.
President Donald Trump's former campaign CEO and later his chief strategist in the White House Steve Bannon, 66, Koflage, 38, Andrew Badolato, 56, and Timothy Shea, 49, were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, the Justice Department said.
According to the indictment, Bannon took at least $1 million from the 'We Build The Wall' campaign to secretly pay the group's founder Brian Kolfage and cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal expenses.