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Friday
Aug092019

Group behind privately funded border wall under criminal investigation

ElFlacodelNorte/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The group that raised millions of dollars to build a privately funded border wall separating Mexico from the U.S. is under criminal investigation in Florida, according to officials.

We Build The Wall, a nonprofit organization that crowdfunded more than $25 million on GoFundMe, is under investigation by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Services, which has oversight of nonprofits and charities in the state, a spokesperson confirmed to ABC News via email.

The investigation began after multiple complaints raising questions about the funds raised by the organization and how they were being allocated were sent to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, the spokesperson said, but declined to comment further.

One of the complaints provided to ABC News by the department -- received on Jan. 13 and written by Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Wendy Tien, which she noted was written in her "personal capacity"-- expresses concerns that the group's founder and the creator of the GoFundMe campaign, Miramar resident Brian Kolfage, was redirecting the donations to the nonprofit after learning that GoFundMe may require him to refund the money since he did not meet his $1 billion goal.

In her complaint from January 2019, Tien wrote that a search of the Florida Secretary of State business organizations site "provides no evidence" that We Build The Wall, which is registered in Florida, has filed articles of incorporation as required, and that it "seems unlikely" that it has obtained 501(c)(4) status, making it tax-exempt as a social welfare organization, with the Internal Revenue Service.

"I am concerned this high-profile fundraising effort is obtaining widespread press on the basis of potentially or intentionally misleading representations," she wrote. "I ask your Office to consider reviewing this possible misrepresentation regarding Florida nonprofit entity status for the benefit of the public."

Tien told ABC News that she wrote the complaint because "members of the public who make donations to nonprofit entities are entitled to an expectation that they be used in accordance to state law." She later received a response stating that her letter was received.

A complaint received on Jan. 14 accused Kolfage of previously being "in contact with the Border Wall Foundation" and "knowing" that the money could not be given to the US Government for the stated purposes."

"He has and continues to deceive and mislead the general public to receive donations," the complaint, written by a Mississippi resident, said of Kolfage.

Another complaint received on May 15 from a writer in New Jersey accused the cause of being a "fraud" that "needs to be shut down immediately."

Kolfage described the Florida investigation to ABC News as "a big fat nothing burger" and "old news." The complainants did not donate to the campaign, he said.

He added that a state senator who "looked into it," whom he declined to name, assured him two days ago that it was "100% politically motivated" by Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, who is a Democrat.

"'Cause we’re doing the work for President Trump and they don’t support President Trump," he said. "It'll all be resolved in a couple of weeks once we give them the proper paperwork.

General counsel from We Build The Wall said in a statement to ABC News that the group has "never been contacted" by the department regarding "ANY investigations or inquiries." The statement described the complaints as "erroneous" and said they "originate from the radical open borders left."

"Ever since WBTW completed its first mile of a total security system in the El Paso sector near Sunland Park, New Mexico, the open border fanatics who oppose a safe and secure america have been relentless in trying to shut us down. WBTW augments President Trump's heroic efforts to secure [sic] our southern border," the statement said.

"The filing of erroneous complaints and applying improper pressure on government employees have failed and will continue to fail. WBTW state filings are accurate and in total compliance with each individual state's laws," the statement continued.

The first portion of the project, built in Sunland Park, New Mexico, is now complete, according to the GoFundMe campaign. However, U.S. officials from the International Boundary and Water Commission mandated that a gate remain open during the day because the barrier was blocking a government-owned access road.

The final cost of that portion of the wall has not been determined but is estimated to be between $6 and $8 million, according to the group.

The GoFundMe campaign, created on Dec. 16, is still accepting donations. More than $300 had been donated on Thursday alone.

A representative for GoFundMe did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

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