- A “We Build a Wall” co-founder can’t use the money he raised to pay for his legal defense, a judge ruled.
- Prosecutors say Brian Kolfage used money intended for a US-Mexico border wall to enrich himself.
- On Thursday, Kolfage was hit with a separate indictment alleging he underpaid his taxes.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
“We Build a Wall” co-founder Brian Kolfage cannot use the funds he purportedly raised for a US-Mexico border wall in order to fund his legal defense in a criminal fraud case, a federal judge said Thursday in a ruling reviewed by Insider.
Kolfage has been under indictment since August 2020 for charges stemming from an alleged scheme related to a crowdfunding campaign for a wall at the US-Mexico border, a policy priority of former President Donald Trump.
In December 2018, during a government shutdown, Kolfage – a right-wing media figure who lost several limbs while serving in the Iraq War – tried to raise $1 billion to purportedly build the wall himself.
He ultimately raised around $25 million for the project, called “We Build a Wall.” Federal prosecutors in Manhattan say he took hundreds of thousands of dollars from that sum to enrich himself and spend on things like a boat, a luxury SUV, a golf cart, jewelry, plastic surgery, home renovations, and credit-card debt.
Prosecutors also charged Stephen Bannon, Trump’s former campaign chairman and top White House policy adviser, in the crowdfunding scheme, though Trump pardoned him on his last day in office. Trump did not pardon Kolfage or Andrew Babolat and Timothy Shea, two other alleged co-conspirators.
Shortly after the charges were filed in August, the judge overseeing the case, Analisa Torres, granted prosecutors’ request to freeze the funds Kolfage raised as part of a restraining order, court filings show. But Kolfage argued he needs the funds to pay an insurance policy he took out for “We Build a Wall” that would fund his legal defense.
In the new ruling, Torres, citing legal precedents, wrote that Kolfage’s constitutional right to counsel doesn’t mean she needs to unfreeze the funds so that Kolfage can pay his preferred lawyer.
“So long as a court finds probable cause that the restrained assets are forfeitable, a defendant is not entitled to modification of the restraining order to allow him to access funds to pay for an attorney,” Torres wrote.
Torres left a door open for Kolfage to overturn the restraining order and gain access to the funds. She said that he can still request a hearing to challenge the underlying probable cause that led to the restraining order, but he must prove he needs the funds to pay for his defense in order to request that hearing.
A separate indictment from federal prosecutors in Florida unsealed Thursday accused Kolfage of tax crimes. Prosecutors said that while Kolfage took hundreds of thousands of dollars for himself from “We Build a Wall,” he listed his income for 2019 at just $63,574.
Steinberg, the attorney Kolfage says he’s struggling to pay, was dismissive of the new federal charges in Florida.
“Unlike the government, we are not going to hold a press conference to celebrate the persecution of a war hero,” he told Insider.