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Co-defendant indicted with Walton County veteran wants a change of venue for trial

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

NEW YORK CITY —  Federal prosecutors are arguing strongly against a motion from Colorado businessman Timothy Shea, a codefendant in the federal fraud and money laundering case involving Air Force veteran and wounded warrior Brian Kolfage of Miramar Beach.

Kolfage and Shea, along with former Trump White House chief political strategist Steve Bannon and Sarasota County, Florida, businessman Andrew Badolato, were indicted earlier this year by a grand jury in the federal court system's Southern District of New York on single counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to launder money.

Kolfage's Facebook posts draw attention of federal prosecutors

The men are alleged to have played roles in a scheme under which money donated to We Build The Wall Inc., a Kolfage-founded nonprofit organization, was transferred to Kolfage. The scheme allegedly netted Kolfage $350,000 while Bannon steered $1 million of the nonprofit's funds to himself.

Wounded warrior Brian Kolfage of Miramar Beach looks at a campaign sign for President Donald Trump at the site of a border wall construction project undertaken by his nonprofit We Build The Wall Inc. Kolfage and three other men are under federal indictment in connection with the alleged fraudulent transfer of funds to Kolfage from the nonprofit organization. Kolfage contends the case is politically motivated and takes some apparent evidence out of context.

Shea is alleged to have profited hundreds of thousands of dollars from his involvement in laundering money from the nonprofit, which collected donations to fund private construction of sections of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

All four men are scheduled for trial in the Southern District of New York in May of next year, but Shea recently filed a motion seeking to have his case moved to the federal district court in Colorado. In documents filed with the motion, Shea says the distance between Colorado and New York as an impediment to his defense, cites that witnesses he intends to use in the case live in Colorado and notes that his energy drink company, Winning Energy, is located in Colorado.

In their 16-page response to Shea's motion, federal prosecutors argue that separating Shea's trial from proceedings for the other three defendants would result in "doubling the burden on the Government, the judiciary, witnesses, and victims."

More specifically, prosecutors point out that moving the trial to Colorado would "require an entire New York-based investigative and prosecutorial team — including three Assistant U.S. Attorneys, two paralegals, several federal law enforcement agents and computer forensic experts — to relocate to Colorado for weeks. It also would require the transportation of large amounts of data and physical evidence to another district. 

In this May 30, 2019, file photo, Brian Kolfage, founder of We Build the Wall Inc., speaks at a news conference in Sunland Park, New Mexico, where a privately funded wall was being constructed.

The response also notes matter-of-factly that the fact that Shea "lives elsewhere does not warrant a change in venue."

The prosecutors' response later takes a sharper tone, noting that "Shea is better positioned to bear any inconvenience than many defendants for whom motions to transfer are denied. ... Shea and his wife received hundreds of thousands of dollars in connection with the charged scheme, and ... (d)uring the period of the charged conspiracy, Shea also took several trips — including to cities near New York like Boston and Scranton ... ."

Those circumstances, prosecutors say "belies the notion that Shea is incapable of traveling to the East Coast and underscores Shea’s apparent ability to mitigate any inconvenience that could arise from him being out of the state of Colorado." 

Prosecutors also sharply address Shea's contention that he needs to stay in Colorado to operate his business.

"Shea states that his business, Winning Energy — an energy drink 'for winners' that purports to be 'made from liberal tears' — 'is still developing and growing in the local sector,' and that he needs to stay in Colorado during a trial," the response to Shea's motion notes.

"It is apparent from Winning Energy’s website and social media pages — which seem to reflect nationwide sales and marketing based on national politics — that there is nothing intrinsically local about the business," prosecutors argue. "To the extent Shea may need to attend to his work during the trial, he would only have time to do so during breaks in the trial day, in the evenings, and during weekends, irrespective of whether the trial occurs in Colorado or New York."

Beyond whatever Judge Analisa Torres may decide in connection with Shea's motion and the prosecutors' response, the next proceeding in the case against the four defendants is a status conference scheduled for 3 p.m. Dec. 2. The proceeding will be held via videoconference.