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Nikki Fried Investigating Florida Vet's Hot-Button Charity, 'We Build the Wall'

June 3, 2019 - 7:15am
Florida vet Brian Kolfage in New Mexico, near the Mexican border
Florida vet Brian Kolfage in New Mexico, near the Mexican border

If congressional Democrats won't pay for Donald Trump's border wall, Iraq war veteran and triple amputee Brian Kolfage reasoned that maybe the American people would pony up the money themselves. 

In December 2018 Kolfage, of Miramar, formed a non-profit group called We Build The Wall. He launched a GoFundMe page under his group’s banner to raise funds for the construction. We Build the Wall went viral virtually overnight. In less than six months the crowdsourcing effort impressively raised more than $23 million.

But problems have arisen -- among them, an investigation of the charity by the state of Florida, where the charity was registered. 

The original stated goal was for the money to be granted to the federal government to be used towards wall construction, bypassing the allocation blockade in D.C. But when the Treasury Department notified Kolfage that any funds he handed over would funnel directly into "general use," he decided to undertake the project with a committee that includes Trump ally Steve Bannon; the wall construction would become an entirely private enterprise.

Brian Kolfage
Brian Kolfage
As of now Kolfage, 37, a retired Air Force purple heart recipient, is facing a pair of governmental challenges: one in New Mexico, and another here in the state of Florida. Last week construction began in Sunland Park, N.M. over the Memorial Day weekend. The project was halted by local officials on the following Tuesday, when the mayor issued a cease and desist order. There's a he-said-they-said disagreement over the permitting of the construction. 

City officials have stated that the permits had not been issued, and approval of the project never took place. At the same time, one of the board members of WBTW, who was on the project site, disputes the claim. It was stated that the owner of the private property, American Eagle Brick, obtained the proper permits and had inspectors on site when construction began. The city claims the application for permits was filed but never granted, and that inspectors were prevented from coming onto the property.

On May 28, back in Miramar Beach, Kolfage angrily tweeted, "They were on site on Friday and gave us green light to build!"

There is no small irony that a wall being built to prevent illegal entry into the country may itself be undocumented.

The wall, which so far spans just under one mile in length, went up on private property running next to El Paso, Tex., through Sunland Park, N.M., Kolfage said last week.

"It’s just under one mile long," he said. "The wall starts at the Rio Grande River and goes up Mount Cristo Rey where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it was impossible to build." 

Kolfage said once everything is said and done, his organization will sell the mile-long wall, which cost between $6 million and $8 million to build, to the federal government for the bargain price of $1.

"We're going to sell this wall to them for $1 and release the title to them," he said. "We can't give the government the money because that's not the way it works. But we wanted to show the American people how to get this job done."

Kolfage told that this build has been approved by Trump and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Not true, said a DHS official: "This project is not connected to DHS efforts." 

Meanwhile in Florida, Kolfage’s group is looking at another challenge entirely. Kolfage is based out of Miramar and WBTW was incorporated in Panama City. This means the charity falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. That department -- overseen by that rarity in Tallahassee elected-officialdom, a Democrat (Nikki Fried) -- officially launched an investigation into the charity on Thursday, May 29.

The reason for granting an investigation, explained a spokesman for Fried's office, is that Florida has been delivered a number of consumer complaints about the charity. They also added that Attorney General Ashley Moody's office has also been fielding complaints about WBTW. 

Are these complaints just a concerted power play by liberals against the hated wall? Or is there truly something amiss with this Trump-favored charity and the Florida veteran some have accused of peddling right-wing misinformation on Facebook? 

On the other hand, the likelihood of a project this large attempting to construct miles of border wall barriers without getting the proper paperwork and permits seems remote. Even while on private land, it is not realistic to consider the charity would expect to erect much of a barrier without creating a lot of attention. Given the location -- it's just miles from downtown El Paso, and the University of Texas at El Paso -- there is little chance of construction crews going undetected. There is also little chance of slipping past the purview of the U.S. Border Patrol, a major presence in the El Paso sector.

It remains to be seen if the construction will be able to move forward while contending with two differing challenges. Even while a board member declares, “We are on strong legal footing,” it's obvious serious challenges to a hotly debated project will be an ongoing concern.

Fried and Moody hadn't returned from Israel until this weekend and were unavailable to discuss the investigation by presstime.

Border wall under construction
Border wall under construction

Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the  industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist. 

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