NEW YORK (AP) — Organizers of a “We Build The Wall” campaign to raise money for a wall along the U.S. southern border lied to donors by saying all their money would fund the wall so that they were actually pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars, a prosecutor told a jury at the start of a criminal trial on Tuesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe drew jurors’ attention to defendant Timothy Shea, who sat alone to face charges after two other defendants recently pleaded guilty in the case and a fourth defendant , Steve Bannon, was pardoned by President Donald Trump hours before he completed his four-term term last year.
She said Shea, of Castle Rock, Colorado, and his “partners in crime” from December 2018 tricked hundreds of thousands of people into believing they wouldn’t pocket the money allegedly collected because 100% of the donations were intended for the construction of the wall.
The prosecutor tried to narrow the jurors’ attention by telling them the prosecution “is not about whether there should be a wall” or whether money was used to build a wall.
“None of this allows the defendant to steal money at the same time,” she said.
Moe said Shea used a shell company, Ranch Property Management, to hide the fact that hundreds of thousands of dollars were being diverted from donations because Shea and his partners “wanted some of that money for themselves.”
She said it was agreed that the project’s founder, Brian Kolfage, would receive $100,000 as well as $20,000 a month, although donors were told he would receive nothing.
“They were committing fraud, plain and simple,” Moe said.
Kolfage, an Air Force veteran who lost both his legs in a mortar attack in Iraq, and co-defendant financier Andrew Badolato, each pleaded guilty in April. They await judgment.
Shea’s attorney John Meringolo told jurors the prosecution’s case fails because Ranch Property Management was not a front company and his client never said he didn’t want to be paid to deal with real estate issues related to the wall along a southern border “where it is very dangerous.
Meringolo told jurors that if he does his job, at the end of the case “on the train home, you’ll say, ‘It’s not nice what they did to Tim Shea. When you work, you get paid.’ »
The attorney said the fundraising effort resulted in the construction of two sections of wall, including one that was completed within weeks at a cost of $7 million, even though the Corps of Engineers of the he army predicted it would cost $31 million and take two years. to build.
Shea, the owner of an energy drink company, Winning Energy, whose cans featured a cartoon superhero image of Trump and claimed to contain “12 oz. of liberal tears,” was described by Meringolo as someone ‘one with a background in real estate whose expertise has come in handy along the border, where most properties are ranch homes.
He warned jurors not to let their political views cloud their judgment.
“We are New Yorkers. Maybe we don’t like the wall,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with us all having different points of view. This is what makes this country great.