Steve Bannon is a free man today thanks to Donald Trump’s pardon of the far-right power player in the last minutes of his presidency. Others involved in the same scheme as Bannon weren’t so lucky: Two of them pleaded guilty Wednesday to defrauding donors to the $25 million GoFundMe border wall project known as “We Build The Wall.”
Brian Kolfage, who led the project, and another man charged in the fraud, Andrew Badolato, pleaded guilty to their roles in “defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors” in the wall-building scheme, the Justice Department said in a press release.
In short: Though Kolfage repeatedly promised donors that their money was going to the construction of segments of privately built border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, he, Bannon and others secretly siphoned off more than $1 million for themselves.
Kolfage pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, as did Badolato, and Kolfage additionally pleaded guilty to tax and wire fraud charges that originated in the Northern District of Florida. Badolato and Bannon’s relationship goes back 20 years, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported last year.
Bannon, who faced charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering before Trump pardoned him, was deeply involved in the scheme, serving as a public spokesperson and booster and adding his hefty reputation in Trumpworld to We Build The Wall’s star-studded roster of supporters.
“No deals I don’t approve,” Bannon allegedly told Badolato in one text message cited in the in August 2020 indictment of the group.
Bannon even publicly joked with Kolfage, while raising money for the fraudulent wall scheme, about everyone thinking it was a fraudulent wall scheme.
During one fundraising event in Sunland Park, New Mexico, Bannon announced: “Welcome back, this is Stephen K. Bannon. We’re off the coast of Saint-Tropez in Southern France in the Mediterranean. We’re on the million-dollar yacht of Brian Kolfage. Brian Kolfage, who took all that money from Buid the Wall!”
Turns out, Kolfage actually did buy a boat with We Build The Wall money, according to the indictment against him. It’s called Warfighter. (Kolfage is a veteran and triple amputee, having lost two legs and an arm while serving in Iraq.)
Though both Badolato and Kolfage are free on bail right now, they’re set to be sentenced in September and could face, respectively, four and five years each behind bars.
Separately, Bannon faces a contempt of Congress charge for stonewalling the congressional Jan. 6 committee.
For his part, Kolfage, known for making baseless claims of sex trafficking and other heinous offenses against those who get in his way, doesn’t seem too pleased about his guilty plea.
“They Michael Flynn’d me,” he told Northwest Florida Daily News last month after prosecutors told the court about his plea.