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Guilty verdict in do-over trial on border wall-building fraud 

Jurors convicted Tim Shea of fleecing the charity he started with Steve Bannon and others to fulfill former President Donald Trump's signature campaign promise via private donations.

MANHATTAN (CN) — A New York jury wasted little time before reaching a unanimous guilty verdict on Friday, convicting Colorado businessman Tim Shea on counts of fraud and conspiracy for his role in the sham charity We Build the Wall. 

Jurors began deliberations the previous afternoon, following two full days of trial testimony. 

Prosecutors originally brought the case back in 2020, indicting Shea and Steve Bannon, the former Trump campaign strategist, as well as Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage and venture capitalist Andrew Badolato.  

Following guilty pleas from Kolfage and Badolato, and Bannon's presidential pardon from Trump, Shea was the last man standing in that federal case. He originally went to trial on the three counts in the spring, but those proceedings ended in a mistrial thanks to a holdout juror.  

We Build the Wall began on the foundation that 100% of funds raised would go toward construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. It quickly raised some $25 million in private donations on GoFundMe but built a mere 3 miles of fencing.  

The rest, according to charging papers, lined the pockets of its founders. Prosecutors said Bannon and Kolfage alone used more than $1 million in We Build the Wall donations to pay for a boat, a 2018 Land Rover Range Rover, a golf cart, jewelry, cosmetic surgery and other assets. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Bracewell told jurors during closing arguments that Shea and his partners never had any intention of adhering to their “powerful, compelling fundraising message" to donors that they would not take any salary or compensation. 

“I mean people are crazy," Shea wrote in a text message to Kolfage after roughly $17 million in donations flooded We Build the Wall's GoFundMe campaign in the first week of its December 2018 launch. "Who would throw money at something like this? At Christmas!” 

Bracewell said Shea and his We Build the Wall cohorts treated the fundraiser as a “bottomless piggybank they looted for whatever they wanted to do." 

Prosecutors showed bank records at trial illustrating that Shea's wife received money transferred through her husband’s shell company, and quoted her as telling her We Build The Wall cohorts of the charity: “It’ll be a gold mine for sure." On Twitter, Shea's wife held herself out on Twitter as CFO of We Build the Wall but she has not been charged.

Both Sheas made thousands of dollars from We Build the Wall merchandise and also steered donor money into launching Trump-themed energy drink company, Winning Energy, which sells cans that boast “12 oz. of liberal tears," the government told jurors.

Defense attorney John Meringolo insisted at closing arguments meanwhile that Shea performed ample work for the campaign by helping to secure land where the wall could be built and by hiring security.  

If his client had a flaw, Meringolo remarked Thursday, it was that he was sloppy with his taxes and financial record. Pointing to evidence that his client did work and accumulated expenses that needed to be reimbursed, Meringolo said this was another reason to acquit. “There is a wall,” he said. “Ladies and gentlemen, that’s reasonable doubt, and that’s not guilty.” 

Shea was charged with counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and falsification of records. Each of the three criminal counts carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres set Shea's sentencing for Jan. 31, 2023. Later that year, Bannon faces a November 2023 trial where he must defend against state criminal charges related to We Build the Wall. Trump's pardon allowed to escape federal prosecution only. The former White House adviser case has denounced the case against him in Manhattan criminal court as “nothing more than a partisan political weaponization of the criminal justice system.”

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