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Man Who Swindled Donors to Trump-Inspired Border Wall Faces Sentencing

A Colorado man convicted last year of conspiring to defraud people who donated money to build the kind of border wall championed by Donald J. Trump is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday in Federal District Court in Manhattan.

The defendant, Timothy Shea, began raising money for a wall between the United States and Mexico in late 2018, working with a disabled veteran named Brian Kolfage. In early 2019 Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump adviser, and Andrew Badolato, a financier from Florida, joined them to form a group called We Build the Wall.

The group raised more than $25 million, saying that everything it took in would go toward the wall. Mr. Kolfage, We Build the Wall’s public face, promised he would “not take a penny.”

Prosecutors said that instead the defendants stole more than a million dollars from the group, spending some on jewelry, boat payments and cases of a Trump-themed energy drink that claimed to contain “liberal tears.”

Mr. Shea was convicted last fall of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to launder money and falsifying records. Prosecutors have asked Judge Analisa Torres to sentence him to just over five years in prison, writing that he had “viewed this fundraising project as a cash cow.”

The defense countered that Mr. Shea had believed that Mr. Kolfage’s pledge not to take money was “more like a salesman’s boast than an actual promise.”

“Mr. Shea is a very good man who succumbed to some bad activity because he was carried away with the prospect of making a really big income,” wrote his lawyer, Thomas H. Nooter.

We Build the Wall’s stated aim was to advance Mr. Trump’s goal of a “big, beautiful” barrier. Its advisory board included Trump allies like Kris Kobach, who is a former Kansas secretary of state, and Erik Prince, the founder of the private military company Blackwater, now known as Academi. Mr. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., praised the group.

Prosecutors said money from We Build the Wall was funneled into companies controlled by Mr. Bannon and Mr. Shea, with each keeping some money and sending some to Mr. Kolfage.

Mr. Shea was the only one of the four defendants to go to trial. Mr. Kolfage and Mr. Badolato pleaded guilty to charges connected to We Build the Wall. Mr. Kolfage was sentenced this year to four years and three months in prison and Mr. Badolato was sentenced to three.

Mr. Bannon was dropped from the federal case after Mr. Trump pardoned him but is now facing trial on state charges related to We Build the Wall.

The first prosecution of Mr. Shea, who before We Build the Wall had used social media to promote various ventures, ended in a mistrial. Eleven jurors told Judge Torres that the 12th had refused to deliberate, called them “liberals” and referred to the trial as a “government witch hunt.”

Mr. Shea was tried again months later. Prosecutors used financial records to show how more than $400,000 from We Build the Wall went to one of his companies, Ranch Property Marketing and Management, which then sent money to Mr. Shea and his wife and to Freedom Daily, a group whose bank account listed Mr. Kolfage and his wife as signers.

Records also showed that We Build the Wall sent $38,500 to a second company formed by Mr. Shea, Winning Energy LLC, which used most of it to buy about 50,000 cans of the liberal-tears drink. The cans depicted Mr. Trump as a rampaging giant.

Other evidence included text exchanges. In one message in late 2018 Mr. Kolfage first suggested raising money for “the trump wall,” adding: “if trump doesn’t take the money then we donate it to our organization.”

Mr. Shea replied: “That’s so perfect!”

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