Meet Brian Kolfage, the leader behind the 'We Build the Wall' fundraising campaign who was just arrested on fraud charges with Steve Bannon

·4 min read
Former US Air Force Senior Airman Brian Kolfage during a tribute to veterans in New York on November 10, 2014.
  • Brian Kolfage was arrested on fraud charges Thursday related to an online fundraising campaign he founded to help build the US-Mexico border wall.

  • Kolfage led the organization along with three others — including former Trump adviser Steve Bannon — who were also indicted.

  • An Air Force veteran, Kolfage lost both of his legs and an arm while serving in Iraq in 2004.

  • Since recovering, he got married and had children, graduated from college, and created the "We Build the Wall" fundraising organization in 2018.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

An Air Force veteran who founded a private crowdfunding organization that raised more than $25 million to help build parts of the US-Mexico border wall was arrested on fraud charges Thursday.

Brian Kolfage and three associates involved in the fundraising effort, including Steve Bannon, a former top adviser to President Donald Trump, were indicted by federal prosecutors in Manhattan on fraud charges. They are accused of defrauding donors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, would not be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle," Audrey Strauss, the acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement on Thursday.

Kolfage is accused of misusing $350,000 in privately raised funds for personal spending on home renovations, a boat, a luxury SUV, a golf cart, jewelry, plastic surgery, and credit-card debt.

He launched the GoFundMe campaign, "We Build the Wall," during a federal government shutdown in December 2018 in an attempt to privately raise $1 billion that would assist the construction of Trump's controversial border wall. The president previously said he disagreed with the private project.

"If you are sick and tired of watching politicians in both parties obstructing President Trump's plan to build a wall on our southern border, then you have come to the right place," Kolfage wrote on his organization's website, encouraging visitors to donate and volunteer.

Other Trump supporters on the advisory board besides Kolfage and Bannon include former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, former Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling, and former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.

"What we're doing is supplementing the president's efforts. What they're going to give him is not even going to be sufficient to secure anything, or at least not much," Kolfage said in an interview in February 2019.

He announced in May 2019 that "a portion of the over $20 million raised" online was used to build a "small section" of fencing along the southern border, with plans to construct more. Thus far, about 4.5 miles have been built, according to its website.

"This border barrier will immediately begin to cease the flow of illegal migrants, drugs and criminals, from flowing onto our streets," Kolfage said in a statement at the time.

He has previously identified himself as an "independent" with "conservative values" who threw his support behind Trump because the president was a political outsider.

Kolfage, who uses a wheelchair and wears prosthetics, began his military career in 2001. He lost both of his legs and his right arm in an attack during his second deployment to Iraq in 2004.

He spent 11 months recovering from the multiple injuries, according to his personal website, and received a Purple Heart, a military award to given to veterans wounded in combat. He then continued to serve the military community in a new capacity, working as an Air Force base security manager, sitting on Rep. Gabrielle Gifford's Veteran Advisory Committee, and visiting soldiers at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Kolfage also went on to earn a bachelor's degree in architecture in 2014 from the University of Arizona, where he secured a number of scholarships.

A native of Detroit, he now resides in Florida, along with his wife and two children.

He is set to appear in court later on Thursday. A day earlier, he appeared on Bannon's podcast to discuss his online campaign.

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