Denver, Jul 27 (IANS): A Colorado businessman was sentenced to five years and three months in jail after being convicted of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars and defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors using an online fundraiser to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.
Timothy Shea was sentenced in New York by federal court judge Analisa Torres, who presided over an October 2022 trial that ended with his conviction on charges including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and obstruction of justice, reports Xinhua news agency.
Shea, 52, of Castle Rock, Colorado, was ordered to forfeit $1.8 million and to pay an equal amount of restitution, and was one of several co-conspirators who spearheaded the We Build the Wall project, a cornerstone of former President Donald Trump's campaign promises in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.
We Build the Wall began on the foundation that 100 per cent of funds raised would go toward construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border.
It quickly raised some $25 million in private donations on GoFundMe but built a mere 4.8 km of fencing.
The rest, according to charging papers, lined the pockets of its founders.
Shea was charged three years ago along with three others, including Steve Bannon, the former top adviser to Trump.
However, Tuesday's sentence handed him was the longest prison term given to any of the conspirators in the fraud.
Prosecutors said Bannon and Brian Kolfage, a decorated Air Force veteran, who lost two legs and an arm in the Iraq wars, alone used more than $1 million in We Build the Wall donations to pay for a boat, a 2018 Range Rover, a golf cart, jewelry, cosmetic surgery and other assets.
Bannon was pardoned in early 2021 while two others, Kolfage and Andrew Badolato, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison.
Kolfage, 41, of Miramar Beach, Florida, received four years and three months in prison, while Andrew Badolato, 58, of Cocoa, Florida, was sentenced to three years.
Before the sentencing, Shea told the judge that he regretted "all of the We Build the Wall stuff" and asked for leniency, saying his wife and teenage children needed him at home.
Prosecutors said Shea, who owns an energy drink company Winning Energy, featuring cans with a cartoon superhero image of Trump and claim to contain "12 oz. of liberal tears", had promised donors that "100 per cent of the money raised would go toward building the wall".
In sentencing Shea, Torres said he helped his co-defendants "launder looted donor funds through shell companies, even as they claimed all the money was going to build the wall", the New Hampshire Union Leader reported Wednesday.
"They hurt us all by eroding the public's faith in the political process," Torres said in her sentencing statement, and that they had capitalised on "those who believed that building a wall would help secure the nation's borders".