Kobach distances himself from We Build the Wall

The organization has been indicted on allegations of money laundering, conspiracy and fraud. Kobach served on its board of directors

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State News

September 9, 2022 - 4:30 PM

Kris Kobach, right, speaks at a rally with President Donald Trump in 2016. On Friday, Kobach stepped down from the board of directors of an organization formed to construct privately-funded strips of wall along the southern border.(Scott Olson/Getty Images/TNS)

Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the Republican candidate for state attorney general, resigned Friday from the board of directors of We Build the Wall after the nonprofit organization was indicted on allegations of money laundering, conspiracy and fraud.

New York state prosecutors unsealed an indictment against former Trump adviser Steve Bannon on Thursday, alleging he defrauded donors to We Build the Wall, which fundraised to construct privately-funded strips of wall along the southern border. We Build the Wall was also indicted and accused of the same crimes. Both Bannon and We Build the Wall have pleaded not guilty.

The indictment put Kobach in the potentially politically precarious position of helping lead an organization under indictment while running to become Kansas’ top law enforcement officer. Kobach’s campaign told The Star he had resigned from the board after the newspaper asked about his continuing involvement with We Build the Wall.

Kobach had been the organization’s general counsel, in addition to serving on the board. He resigned both positions, according to state Sen. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican and Kobach’s campaign spokesperson.

If Kobach had remained on the board, he would have been part of a small team of corporate directors in charge of the organization as it faces allegations of criminal conduct. Kobach was on the board during at least part of the time period in which prosecutors allege Bannon and We Build the Wall engaged in money laundering and conspiracy.

Kobach has been on We Build the Wall’s board since at least July 2019, according to business filings in Florida, where the nonprofit was incorporated. The indictment alleges the money laundering, conspiracy and fraud took place between January or February 2019 and October or December 2019 – depending on the count.

I’m sort of a person who kind of knows what the task of the company was.

Kris Kobach on his relationship to ‘We Build The wall’

We Build the Wall is no longer trying to build a private border wall, but at the height of its popularity in 2019 it had the support of a roster of right-wing figures, including businessman Erik Prince, the founder of the private military company Blackwater, and Kobach. Federal prosecutors charged Bannon and three others with defrauding donors in August 2020.

Florida business records currently list two other directors in addition to Kobach, Brian Kolfage and Amanda Shea. Kolfage pleaded guilty in connection to defrauding donors earlier this year. Shea is the wife of Timothy Shea, whose trial on federal charges ended in a mistrial earlier this year. Prosecutors plan to try him again.

Former President Donald Trump pardoned Bannon in his final hours in office, but the pardon doesn’t shield Bannon from state-level prosecution.

On Wednesday evening, before the indictment was unsealed, Kobach told reporters that he had remained affiliated with We Build the Wall because he is in the process of shutting it down. Kobach, an attorney, said a lawyer needs to be involved for an “orderly shutdown.”

Claeys said Friday that a nonprofit corporation could be shut down even if a case was proceeding against it.

Kobach said he doesn’t believe he is in legal jeopardy. Kobach hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing by either federal or New York prosecutors.

“An orderly shut down of WBTW is essential to the nation’s border security,” Kobach said in a statement Friday.

Kobach said that last week ownership of the New Mexico portion of wall constructed by We Build the Wall was transferred to the federal government. He said the U.S. Border Patrol now has full control of that section of wall. The wall includes an observation post that he said is “essential to stopping the Mexican cartels from smuggling fentanyl and other drugs.”

“This is one of the most important objectives that I wanted to achieve in assisting in the shut down,” Kobach said.

The indictment came as the race for attorney general heats up ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Kobach, who won the Aug. 2 Republican primary with 42% of the vote, is facing off against Democrat Chris Mann, a former Lawrence police officer and prosecutor in Wyandotte County.

“The attorney general is the chief law enforcement officer of the state. His character, reputation and moral judgment should be beyond reproach,” said state Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat and an attorney.

We Build the Wall formed in late 2018 after Kolfage, a U.S. Air Force veteran of Iraq, initially raised money for a wall through a GoFundMe page. Kolfage was charged federally with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Kolfage pleaded guilty in April.

Federal prosecutors alleged Kolfage covertly used more than $350,000 in donations for his personal use. Bannon was also accused of using We Build the Wall funds to cover personal expenses. The two men, along with Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, were accused of concealing payments to Kolfage by routing them through a nonprofit and shell company controlled by Shea.

Badolato also pleaded guilty in April. Shea’s trial ended in a mistrial in June but prosecutors plan to try him again.

Kobach said he was on the witness list for both the prosecution and defense in Shea’s mistrial. It’s not clear whether Kobach would be a potential witness in the state-level case against Bannon and We Build the Wall.

“I’m sort of a person who kind of knows what the task of the company was,” Kobach said, explaining why he was a potential witness.

Court records indicate at one point Kobach was owed at least $75,000 in back pay from We Build the Wall, but much of its funds were frozen following the federal indictment. We Build the Wall went as far as asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up its effort to gain access to the funds.

We Build the Wall’s petition to the Supreme Court was voluntarily dismissed in May by agreement of both the organization and the U.S. Department of Justice. No explanation was given at the time.

Kobach said Wednesday that he wasn’t paid at all for two years but that recently a federal court had freed up funds to allow We Build the Wall to pay its debts. He said he had been paid but didn’t disclose the amount.

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