Consumer complaints have prompted the state of Florida to open an investigation into the nonprofit group that raised more than $20 million to build a private border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The investigation into the Florida-based group, We Build The Wall, was launched in mid-May, a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture said in a statement Thursday.
“The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services can confirm that in response to consumer complaints referred by the Office of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, the Department opened an investigation into this charity on May 17,” the spokesperson said. “As this matter is now an active investigation, the Department cannot comment further. No additional information is available at this time.”
The group was launched in January by triple-amputee Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage after he shifted the goalposts of his viral GoFundMe campaign from funding the federal government’s border wall to building one of his own.
Kolfage told The New York Times in January that We Build The Wall hoped to break ground on its piecemeal border wall “within weeks,” but the group kept mostly quiet about its construction efforts until Monday, when it revealed it began construction on a $6 to $8 million half-mile barrier in Sunland Park, New Mexico, near El Paso, Texas.
Some of Kolfage’s donors grew uneasy during the long period of silence and started questioning in early May what was being done with their money.
Kolfage and his team insisted they had to remain silent in the lead-up to breaking ground in order to avoid lawsuits from groups like the ACLU.
“Remember powerful people want to stop our progress, so to not tip anyone off we are radio silent!!” Kolfage wrote in a Facebook post in May.
Former White House chief strategist and We Build The Wall director Steve Bannon told Yahoo News on Monday that the group hastily “purchased the rights” to the private land where their wall was built over Memorial Day weekend.
“We had to catch them by surprise,” Bannon said, adding that local residents are “gonna freak out” when they see the hastily constructed wall.
WINNING!! @WeBuildtheWall was given the green light yesterday afternoon by the city of Sunland Park to resume construction, and our permits were re-issued. From the start We Build The Wall, Inc complied with all regulations as required by law as we stated.@JackPosobiec #Trump pic.twitter.com/XcUnMKvK3i
— Brian Kolfage (@BrianKolfage) May 30, 2019
Sunland Park Mayor Javier Perea was also caught by surprise. He announced Tuesday a cease and desist order to the private landowner where We Build The Wall’s barrier was built, alleging a permit wasn’t obtained prior to construction and that the structure was built in violation of a city ordinance.
Kolfage said his organization received the “green light to build” prior to breaking ground.
Kolfage announced Thursday morning that Sunland Park rescinded its order and authorized his group to resume construction.
We Build The Wall did not return a request for comment.
By Andrew Kerr
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