The organization behind the viral crowdfunding effort to build a private wall along the southern border with Mexico is under criminal investigation in Florida, where it’s registered as a nonprofit, officials confirmed to BuzzFeed News.
Founded by Brian Kolfage, a decorated Iraq War veteran with a history of profiting from fake and conspiratorial websites, We Build the Wall raised more than $23 million in donations to pay for President Trump’s border wall.
On Tuesday, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees charities and nonprofits in the state, confirmed a criminal investigation into the group, as first reported by DCReport. However, it wasn’t clear what sparked the criminal probe, with a spokesperson for the state agency saying they “cannot comment on ongoing investigations.”
Last week, Kobach reportedly used an email list maintained by We Build the Wall to solicit donations for his Senate campaign.
As a 501(c)(4) in Florida, We Build the Wall can engage in advocacy and political lobbying, but Kobach’s solicitation might have violated a requirement to include a “paid for” disclaimer, the Daily Beast reported.
Kolfage refuted there was any criminal investigation into his organization, calling the inquiry, “corporate governance check.”
“There’s no ‘criminal investigation,'” he told BuzzFeed News. “It’s a formality to check our records because of a complaint. Will be squashed in a few days.”
When responding to BuzzFeed News, however, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services had specifically cited the state’s 119.071(2)(c)1 statute, which prevents an agency from releasing records due to an “active criminal investigation.”
Kobach’s campaign did not respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment.
After starting out as a GoFundMe effort, We Build the Wall has been marred in legal trouble, clashing with local and federal agencies over its project. After finishing the half-mile wall in Sunland Park, New Mexico, in May, the group was accused by local officials and the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) of not first obtaining the required work permits.
Kolfage stated on Twitter that the group had “planned for battle” and rushed the project during a holiday weekend “when the corrupt city was partying.” The tweet was later deleted.
Sunland Park and We Build the Wall had said they were working to get the project into compliance. But a month later, officials told BuzzFeed News the required permits still had not been obtained, and that the city had filed a complaint against the owner of the land the wall was built on.
The IBWC also accused We Build the Wall of building a gate for the wall on federal land without permits or authorization, and cutting off access to waterways and a public monument.
According to emails obtained by BuzzFeed News, We Build the Wall was told about the permits and studies required to build the gate on federal land, but the group decided to move ahead with construction regardless.
“We are literally making a mountain out of a mole hill,” Rich Kaye, an attorney representing We Build the Wall, wrote to the IBWC on June 3. The following day, Kolfage tweeted video of the gate being built.
IBWC officials have since ordered the gate be kept open during daytime work hours. They have also said that the half-mile structure has not stopped the flow of people crossing the border illegally, instead channeling them to cross at a nearby dam and creating a “safety and security problem.”
Kolfage has retorted by accusing, without citing any evidence, Sunland Park and IBWC officials of corruption and working with Mexican drug cartels.
*see full story by Buzzfeed News