The idea of a private border wall started with a GoFundMe campaign that rapidly raked in more than $20 million. Now prosecutors accuse former top Trump aide Steve Bannon and others tied to the project of defrauding donors and pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal expenses.
It’s the latest development in a project that’s spurred controversy since its inception, while drawing millions of dollars of support and endorsements from many Trump allies.
Here’s a look at some of the key events that have unfolded since the project began in 2018:
The campaign begins
Brian Kolfage, a triple amputee and Air Force veteran, starts a GoFundMe campaign in December 2018 saying “political inaction” has inspired him to raise private funds for a border wall. Within days, the project raises more than $20 million dollars.
The nonprofit created in connection with the campaign, “We Build the Wall,” announces in May 2019 it has broken ground on its first private border wall project in Sunland Park, New Mexico. “Buckle up, we’re just getting started,” the group says in a Facebook post. Organizers say the private wall is about a mile long.
Ordered to ‘cease and desist’
Days later, city officials order construction to “cease and desist,” stating that proper permits weren’t obtained. Kolfage calls the order “political intimidation.”
Dispute with a federal agency
The next month a federal agency forces open a gate in the new, privately constructed border wall, arguing proper permits weren’t obtained. Kolfage slams the commission, accusing the agency of overreaching its authority.
A wall on the Rio Grande
Contractor Fisher Industries begins work on a three-mile stretch of private border wall in November 2019. It’s located on a sugar cane farm in Mission, Texas, along the Rio Grande. Kolfage tells CNN that We Build the Wall provided $1.5 million for that project, describing that as 9% of the total cost.
The project is temporarily halted after being sued by federal prosecutors and the National Butterfly Center, a 100-acre wild butterfly habitat near the project’s location, but later is allowed to resume. Fisher’s method of building just feet from the Rio Grande becomes a point of contention, in part because of the potential for flooding and damage to surrounding property.
A new proposal
Interviews and correspondence obtained exclusively by CNN in February 2020 show that We Build the Wall had been communicating with the Trump administration about plans to build a wall along the southern border and donate it to the US government.
Reports of erosion
As a part of its lawsuit over the private project, the butterfly center says it documented erosion at the base of the Texas wall in the aftermath of Hurricane Hanna in July 2020. Photos viewed by CNN show cracks in the ground between the wall and the river.
“We’ve got another storm headed this way. If a ‘Category 1’ already caused so much damage, I hate to see what this next storm is going to do,” says Javier Peña, a lawyer for the center.
In response to allegations of erosion, Kolfage in August 2020 tweets a link to a news article describing repair work at the Texas site.
A shocking indictment
New York federal prosecutors charge Kolfage, Bannon and two others in August 2020 with defrauding donors of hundreds of thousands of dollars as part of the border wall fundraising campaign. Bannon, Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, Nick Valencia, Ashley Killough, Geneva Sands, Erica Orden and Kara Scannell contributed to this report.