Brian Kolfage, 39, and Andrew Badolato, 57, both Florida residents, were accused of pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds from an online crowdfunding campaign called “We Build the Wall,” which raised more than $25 million.
Both men pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud before U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres. Kolfage also pleaded guilty to tax and wire fraud charges filed in Florida.
Plea agreements between the government and Kolfage and Badolato specified the defendants can not challenge sentences within an agreed-to guidelines range. For Kolfage, that range was four to five years. For Badolato, it was roughly 3 1/2 years to four years. Sentencing was scheduled for Sept. 6.
Without a plea deal in place, Kolfage could have faced up to 46 years in prison while Badolato faced a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison.
The judge asked Kolfage to speak about his crimes, Kolfage said the group had originally intended for all the raised money to be used to build a wall, but it “soon became apparent” that the plan to donate the money to the U.S. government for the wall’s construction was not possible.
At that point, he said, they “induced donors to opt in to the new project” to build a border wall on private land by falsely representing that none of the donations would be spent on salaries or compensation to the fundraisers.
“I knew what I was doing was wrong and a crime,” he said. After he spoke, Torres asked questions, including whether he had promised the public that “100 percent” of the money would go toward building the wall. “That is correct,” he answered.
“Despite your promise, you made an agreement with others to keep a large sum of money for yourself,” the judge said. “That is correct,” Kolfage answered.
Badolato said he engaged in the conspiracy from 2018 to 2020, agreeing to assure donors that all the money would go toward building the wall when he knew the statements were false.
“I knew this was wrong and I’m terribly, terribly sorry for what I did and I humbly beg the court for mercy,” he said.
When the judge asked Badolato if he was aware that Kolfage was going to get money from donations, he said: “Yes I did and I helped facilitate it.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicolas Roos said evidence against the men at trial would have included testimony from donors, along with transaction records following donations into the defendants’ bank accounts, emails and text records, along with public statements made by the coconspirators which they knew to be false.
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: REUTERS