Federal Trial Delayed for Air Force Veteran Charged in Border Wall Fraud Scheme

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U.S. Air Force Sr. Airman Brian Kolfage
In this Jan. 14, 2016 file photo, retired U.S. Air Force Sr. Airman Brian Kolfage, speaks with the media during a 2016 groundbreaking ceremony for a new home he and his family were receiving through the Gary Sinise Foundation's RISE program at Sandestin, Fla. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)

MIRAMAR BEACH — The May 24 trial date that had been set for Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage and co-defendants on federal charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering has slipped drastically, according to recent court documents.

In a March 2 order, U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres of the Southern District of New York declared that the May 24 trial date was adjourned and that the court would "seek to schedule a jury trial for the third calendar quarter of 2021."

But then, in an order dated April 20, Torres noted that after reviewing the dates that the defendants, their counsel and the court would be available, she determined that "due to conflicts in the court's and the parties' availability in the third quarter of 2021, the Court ... will instead seek to schedule a jury trial for the fourth calendar quarter of 2021."

The order asks the parties to submit dates of availability for a fourth-quarter trial by July 16.

Kolfage, who lives in Miramar Beach, lost both legs and an arm in a 2004 enemy rocket explosion in Iraq. He faces the charges in connection with We Build The Wall Inc., a Florida-based nonprofit he founded in 2019 to collect donations for private construction of sections of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

There had been three other defendants in the case, including Steve Bannon, who served for a time as former President Donald Trump's chief political strategist during Trump's single term in office. Indicted along with Bannon and Kolfage were Florida investor Andrew Badolato and Colorado real estate agent Timothy Shea.

All four men were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, charges which could carry combined prison sentences of as much as 40 years for each of them.

Broadly, the indictment handed down against Kolfage and the other men last August by a grand jury in the Southern District of New York contends that, despite assurances that Kolfage would not be compensated for his work heading up We Build The Wall Inc., he covertly took more than $350,000 from the organization while Bannon used a nonprofit organization of his own to take more than $1 million from We Build The Wall. Badolato and Shea allegedly were involved in a scheme to use fake invoices and sham "vendor" agreements to steer the money to Kolfage.

Trump, however, pardoned Bannon, and his indictment was administratively terminated by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.

But Bannon's counsel, Robert J. Costello of the New York law firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP, has recently argued in court filings that the administrative termination is an insufficient response to the pardon. Costello contends that an administrative termination "suggests a temporary suspension that might be revived in the future."

"The continuation of the indictment under these circumstances serves no legitimate purpose," Costello wrote in his filing.

Kolfage has contended that there were political motivations for bringing the case forward in the Southern District of New York, but prosecutors have indicated the case was brought there because some of the victims of the alleged scheme live within the jurisdiction.

In his own recent court filings, Kolfage, through his counsel, has continued to press his point that the assets of We Build the Wall Inc. that were collected after January of this year are not subject to forfeiture because those donations came in after the nonprofit organization announced that Kolfage would receive a salary for his work.

Prosecutors have countered that the grand jury indictment "alleges the scheme was perpetrated up to the date that the indictment was returned in August 2020," well past the January announcement of Kolfage receiving a salary.

Up next in the case, according to court documents, is a conference set for the early afternoon of May 3 to be conducted via videoconference.

This article is written by Jim Thompson from The Walton Sun, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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