Florida officials are conducting a criminal investigation of WeBuildTheWall Inc., a group which says it will build privately the wall on the Mexican border touted by Donald Trump. The organization has raised more than $20 million through a GoFundMe campaign amid questions about how $1.7 million was spent.
We reported in June that WeBuildTheWall Inc. was under civil investigation by Florida regulators concerning possible misuse of donations.
Brian Kolfage Jr., the wall organization’s president, asserted in an email “there’s no criminal investigation.” Kolfage had no further comment after being advised that Florida officials had put in writing that a criminal investigation is underway and confirmed it in an interview.
The wall group has erected a half-mile segment of fencing, but work stopped temporarily when local officials said the project violated local zoning laws.
Last month, this reporter sent Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs a public-records request for “copies of any notices, subpoenas, or any other records pertinent to the investigation of WeBuildTheWall Inc.” The agency oversees Florida charities.
“Your public records request was forwarded to the Office of General Counsel for handling,” the department’s senior attorney Rob F. Summers wrote late last week. “The records you requested are exempt from disclosure pursuant to s. 119.071(2)(c)1., F.S. (Active Criminal Investigation).”
When asked for details, a department spokesman tersely wrote, “We cannot comment on ongoing investigations.” The spokesperson cited the same statute in declining to expand on the letter revealing the criminal probe.
That means that the criminal investigation into the wall effort is now in the hands of the Florida Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement.
Trump Jr. Appearance
Just 10 days ago, WeBuildTheWall hosted a three-day political event in New Mexico, where it has already erected a short section of fence. The event featured a speech by Donald Trump Jr., the president’s oldest son.
Former White House senior adviser Steve Bannon attended the event, as did former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), and the president of Citizens United David Bossie.
Bossie’s appearance was curious since, in May, the Trump 2020 campaign seemed to distance itself from Bossie and his organization, which promotes dark money in politics. However, since then the Trump campaign has indicated it is seeking big money and dark money.
WeBuildTheWall’s filings with Florida regulators demonstrated that it materially misrepresented the composition of its board of directors. It also held a raffle with a mandatory entry fee. State lawyers noted that the mandatory fee appears to violate Florida’s anti-gambling law.
Kolfage’s wall group has erected a half-mile segment of fencing on what it says is private land in the town of Sunland Park, N.M. That work stopped temporarily when city officials determined that the project violated local zoning laws.
Mayor Receives Death Threats
After being told to stop work, WeBuildTheWall used its social media accounts to bully local officials. Sunland Park Mayor Javier Perea said he got death threats.
Wall construction resumed after George Cudahy, the landowner, told city officials he just wanted it put up some lights and poles. The city acquiesced with his request.
But when city officials realized the wall project had resumed they filed a criminal complaint. Cudahy failed to appear in local court for a hearing on the complaint, which could result in a criminal record and a $500 fine.
The project also includes an encroachment on federal land. The International Boundary and Water Commission ordered Kolfage’s organization to act, but nothing happened.
The commission said in a statement that WeBuildTheWall “built a gate on federal land in Sunland Park, N.M., near El Paso, Texas, without authority, and then locked the gate closed on June 6, 2019. The private gate blocks a levee road owned by the U.S. Government. After repeated requests to unlock and open the private gate, the United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC), accompanied by two uniformed law enforcement officers from the Dona Ana County Sheriff’s Office, removed the private lock, opened the gate, and locked the gate open pending further discussions with We Build the Wall.”
Part of the Wall in Mexico
The Mexican government says the wall, or at least part of it, is on Mexican soil.
Surveyors sent by the Mexican government determined that part of the fence construction sits on the wrong side of the border. Mexican officials said the encroaching materials will have to be removed, which may prove difficult to accomplish.
The Trump administration hasn’t built a single foot of border fencing after 30 months of riling up its supporters with claims that the wall was vital to national security.
The latest estimate is that the proposed Mexico border wall would cost nearly $60 billion. That is 3,000 times as much money as the organzation said it has raised.
A wall cannot be built along signification sections of the border with Mexico because of terrain issues, according to federal agencies and others who have studied Trump’s idea.
Trump, who ran for office saying Mexico would pay for the wall, failed to get any money from Congress in his first two years in office, when Republicans controlled both chambers. Democrats, who now control the House, say they will never fund Trump’s wall.
The Washington Post reported that Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) held up one of Trump’s appointees for a post that requires Senate confirmation to encourage the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hire Fisher Industries to build Trump’s unfunded Mexican border wall.
Fisher Industries, a North Dakota-based company, built the half-mile fencing for Kolfage’s wall group. It’s unknown if WeBuildTheWall has anything to do with the senator’s efforts.
The organization’s general counsel is Kris Kobach, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Kansas who also sits on the wall group’s board as a director. As Kansas secretary of state, Kobach pushed to remove 20,000 voters from the election rolls, sought strict voter identification requirements and government registration of Muslims. Trump considered naming him “immigration czar.”
Kobach, who as a Kansas state official worked to purge voter rolls over minor issues, appears to have violated multiple federal and state election laws by using the wall group’s donor list to solicit campaign contributions. Congress prohibits partisan political activity by charities.
That use of the organization’s mailing list to solicit campaign donations promoted Common Cause to file a complaint with the campaign solicitation the Federal Election Commission.
Kobach is paid for his role as a lawyer for the group and serving on its board of director as of July 15. That came months after the group claimed he was serving as a director even though the state had not been notified promptly as state law requires.
WeBuildTheWall’s effort to build a privately financed Mexican border wall could result in serious consequences for failing to abide the letter of the law in its home state, where the disabled veteran Brian Kolfage is incorporated and operates his organization out of a post-office box store in a Panama City Beach strip mall.
Filing false intentionally statements to Florida’s regulator is a third-degree felony and a conviction could result in up to five years in prison.
We asked Kolfage; newly named corporate treasurer Dustin Stockton; his spokeswoman, the former Breitbart personality Jennifer Lawrence; and his lawyer Todd McMurtry of Hemmer, DeFrank, Wessels about the criminal investigation.
Only Kolfage responded. But he did not respond to questions about whether WeBuildTheWall Inc. or any of its officials were helping Fisher Industries get contracts from the Trump administration.
Kolfage also did not answer when asked about Kobach’s apparently illegal use of WeBuildTheWall donor list for his political campaign.
Featured image: Brian Kolfage, Kimberly Guilfoyle and Donald Trump Jr. arrive at an airport in El Paso, Texas, July 26. (Instagram)
*Correction: WeBuildtheWall Inc. has tax-exempt status under section 501(c)4 of the IRS code as a social welfare organization. So-called C4 organizations are not classified as charities, and donations are not tax-deductible. Earlier versions of this story erroneously referred to the group as a charity.
Congress must weigh Trump’s poisonous narcissism — as well as his corruption: Yale psychiatrist
On Thursday, leading psychiatrists and I, along with more than 650 other mental health professionals, submitted a “Petition to the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives,” to include our statement on the psychological dangers of the president. It reads: “We are speaking out at this time because … as the time of possible impeachment approaches, Donald Trump has the real potential to become ever more dangerous, a threat to the safety of our nation.” We believe we have an ethical obligation to warn of the danger that Mr. Trump poses as the impeachment process proceeds and have offered ourselves for consultation.
Mueller Report Redux: Bill Barr is about to undercut a report on the origins of the Trump-Kremlin investigation
Here we go again. A respected Justice official has spent months in an investigation into possible wrongdoing at the start of what became the special counsel’s probe, only to have Atty. Gen. William P. Barr moving to counter the results even before they are published.
The official this time is the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, but according to news reports, Barr is maneuvering behind the scenes to counter central conclusions that there was nothing major amiss in the start of the investigation of all-things-Russia.
Yes, from the bits and pieces that have emerged, a lower-level lawyer changed an email after the fact to bolster a particular argument towards getting approval from the secret FISA investigatory court, but the report concludes that it did not alter the outcome. Overall, Horowitz is expected to say in the report, while one could question judgments made along the way by top brass at the FBI, the call to launch an investigation was totally kosher. In other words, no “witch hunt,” as charged by Donald Trump and his team of defenders.
The real DC showdown: Pelosi vs. Trump
Love her or hate her, Nancy Pelosi is a classy, effective and persuasive Speaker.
Repeatedly through the Trump presidency, she has stepped up to offer just the right gesture, just the right opinion, just the right level of evenness or passion that proves effective in making the role of leadership believable.
Along the way, she manages to count votes, keep her caucus in line and stand up for a totally understandable and admirable bar of justice and American value, for the Constitution itself.
Her statements yesterday in outlining in measured tones the reasoning that Donald Trump’s actions have left “no choice” but moving forward towards impeachment were well-said, logical, and belied the emotion behind them.