Category Archives: Crime

Private Border Wall Fundraisers Have Been Arrested on Fraud Charges

Federal prosecutors indicted Brian Kolfage and others involved with the nonprofit We Build the Wall, charging that they looted the charity for personal gain. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)

When we asked Brian Kolfage last month to explain how his group We Build the Wall had spent the $25 million it had raised, plus address concerns of corruption when the private sector takes over the building of border walls, he scoffed.

“How is there corruption?” Kolfage, a decorated Iraq War veteran, told ProPublica and The Texas Tribune. “It’s privatized. It’s not federal money.”

As to the money, he said those details would come in the fall when the nonprofit filed the required tax forms.

On Thursday, federal prosecutors indicted Kolfage; We Build the Wall board member Steve Bannon, the former adviser to President Donald Trump; and two others involved in the nonprofit, charging that they looted the charity for personal gain.

Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said they falsely told donors that all the money raised by the group would go toward construction but then directed a sizable chunk to themselves.

“While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, 38, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, would not be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle,” she added in a news release.

More than $350,000 was allegedly routed to Kolfage, which he spent on, among other things, home renovations, a triple-engined outboard boat and a luxury SUV. Bannon, 66, through an unnamed nonprofit, received more than $1 million, according to the indictment. The other two charged are Andrew Badolato, a venture capitalist, and Timothy Shea, who is married to We Build The Wall’s chief financial officer. Bannon pleaded not guilty in federal court on Thursday.

Continue reading at ProPublica.

Nogales border officers make record 254-pound fentanyl bust

A 26-year-old Mexican truck driver has been arrested and charged in the record-breaking drug shipment, which was hidden under a load of cucumbers. Mamta Popat / Arizona Daily Star

In a record seizure for Customs and Border Protection, officers confiscated 254 pounds of fentanyl — enough for millions of potentially lethal doses — hidden in a cargo of cucumbers at a Nogales port of entry.

It was the largest single seizure of the potent opioid in CBP history.

Juan Antonio Torres-Barraza, a 26-year-old Mexican truck driver, was caught Saturday with more than 650 pounds of methamphetamine and fentanyl worth $4.6 million, officials said Thursday during a news conference at the Mariposa Port of Entry. He is in federal custody facing two counts of possession with intent to distribute.

According to court documents, Torres-Barraza was driving a 1999 Volvo through the Mariposa Port of Entry when he was referred to a secondary inspection. During a scan, agents observed anomalies in the trailer’s floor, and a CBP canine team alerted officers to what turned out to be 416 packages, 94 of them with fentanyl and the rest with methamphetamine.

The fentanyl, worth about $3.5 million, was mainly in powder form, but there were also pills.

The meth seizure was the third-largest discovered at Arizona ports of entry and consisted of 322 packages weighing about 395 pounds and worth $1.18 million.

The strongest opioid available in medical treatment, pharmaceutical fentanyl is used to treat severe pain and is usually administered through a patch. The euphoria-inducing drug is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Tucson border agent shot and wounded near Arizona-Mexico border

One of rancher Jim Chilton’s pastures near Arivaca is shown. A Border Patrol agent was shot and wounded near the ranch Tuesday, Chilton said he was told by the agency. Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star

A Tucson Border Patrol agent shot and wounded south of Arivaca while on duty Tuesday was in stable condition, a union representative said.

The agent was involved in a shooting incident about 4:30 a.m., officials said in a news release. Jim Chilton, a local rancher, said he was told by the Border Patrol that the agent was by himself and struck in the hand, leg and into his protective vest, “which worked, thank God,” he said. “How he got from that state to be rescued, I have no idea.”

The agent, whose name hasn’t been released, was taken to a hospital where he was in stable condition, said Art Del Cueto, president of the local chapter of the Border Patrol Union.

The agency said several people were taken into custody.

The shooting happened in the Chimney Canyon area, about 10 miles from the border and close to Chilton’s ranch house in an area frequently used by drug and people smugglers.

“Chimney Canyon is a wide canyon which undoubtedly has cartel scouts on the mountains that guide drug packers and individuals just trying to get into the U.S.,” Chilton said, adding that he has seen increased traffic in the area during the last couple of months.

Chilton ranches 50,000 acres that include a remote stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border in the Altar Valley.

The Border Patrol has released very little information about the incident, citing the ongoing investigation. A news conference initially scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday was postponed until Wednesday morning. The FBI and Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Personal Responsibility are involved in the investigation.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Border agent Lonnie Swartz to be tried again in cross-border shooting of teen

“They gave me and my family good news,” Araceli Rodriguez, the mother of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, said after a retrial was announced Friday in the shooting death of her son. The trial is set to start Oct. 23. Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star

Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz will be tried again in the killing of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodríguez.

Federal prosecutors announced their decision for a new trial on voluntary and involuntary manslaughter charges at a hearing Friday in Tucson’s federal court. The trial is scheduled to start Oct. 23.

Swartz, originally charged with second-degree murder in the 2012 shooting, was acquitted of that charge on April 23 by a jury of eight women and four men. U.S. District Judge Raner Collins gave them the option to consider voluntary and involuntary manslaughter if they were unable to reach a verdict. But after four days of deliberation, the jurors told the judge they couldn’t reach a unanimous decision on the lesser charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Sue Feldmeier said she couldn’t comment on the government’s decision to retry the case. But Sean Chapman, one of two defense attorneys representing Swartz, said he wasn’t surprised.

“It’s typical in a homicide case where there was a mistrial on some counts,” he said.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Full coverage or the Lonnie Swartz trial.

Jurors on opposite sides: Was agent stopping threat, or lethally over-reacting?

Kevin Briggs and Heather Schubert, two of the 12 jurors in the murder trial of Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz. Perla Trevizo/Arizona Daily Star.

After sitting in a courtroom and listening to evidence for four weeks, a Tucson jury was deadlocked almost immediately on whether to convict Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz — a reflection of the strong divisions in society when it comes to law enforcement and the border.

Swartz, 43, was indicted in 2015 after firing 16 shots through the border fence at Nogales in response to rock throwers, killing Jose Antonio Elena Rodríguez. The 16-year-old Mexico native was hit eight times in the back and twice in the head.

While the decision to not convict the agent on a second-degree murder charge was quick, the jurors couldn’t agree on two lesser charges: voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter, two jurors said in interviews.

“We felt second-degree was not an appropriate sentence for him,” said Heather Schubert.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Full coverage or the Lonnie Swartz trial.