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Trump Backer’s Trial Over Mexico Wall Fraud Ends in Hung Jury

·3 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Eleven of 12 jurors wanted to convict former Steve Bannon associate Timothy Shea of lining his pockets with money donated to build a wall on the southern US border, but a holdout who accused the majority of being liberals got in the way.

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US District Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan declared a mistrial Tuesday. The hung jury adds more drama to a case that lost its highest-profile defendant in January 2021 when then-President Donald Trump, on his last day in office, pardoned Bannon.

US Attorney Damian Williams vowed to try Shea again.

The mistrial “in no way lessens our resolve or belief in the powerful and compelling evidence that we strongly believe proves his guilt,” Williams said in a statement.

Of the four men charged in the alleged border-wall scheme, Shea was the only one to face a jury.

Initially, each had denied wrongdoing and claimed the prosecution was politically motivated. But Bannon was pardoned, and co-defendants Brian Kolfage and Andrew Badolato pleaded guilty in April, admitting they conspired to receive money from the donations despite telling the public it would all go to building a wall.

A note from the Shea jurors last week made clear how political the case had become, with eleven pitted against one whom the rest wanted removed from the panel.

The lone holdout accused the others of being liberals, according to letter to the judge from Shea’s lawyer, John Meringolo. The lawyer also claimed the judge had improperly questioned the holdout, putting pressure on him. The judge didn’t respond to that allegation.

Meringolo didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Shea was the chief executive officer of a company that sold a Trump-themed beverage called Winning Energy, which purports to contain “ultra-hydrating liberal tears.”

The four men were charged with defrauding people who gave $25 million to We Build the Wall. Prosecutors argued that $1 million of the money was used for travel and personal luxuries, including a Range Rover for Bannon.

The men were charged in August 2020. Kolfage was additionally charged, in May 2021, with tax fraud and filing a false return. Kolfage, of Miramar Beach, Florida, served in the Air Force in Iraq in 2004, when he lost both legs and his right hand during a rocket attack.

Kolfage pleaded guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud and filing false tax returns. Torres told him the maximum sentence for all the counts is 46 years in prison. Badolato pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy, which is punishable by as long as 20 years. The actual sentences are usually much lower than the maximum allowed.

Kolfage has agreed to forfeit $17.9 million tied to the scheme. Badolato will forfeit $1.4 million.

We Build the Wall funded about five miles (eight kilometers) of border fencing in two different locations in Texas and New Mexico.

The case is US v. Kolfage, 20-cr-00412, US District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan)

(Updates with detail about the jury)

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