North Dakota contractor Tommy Fisher and his company, Fisher Industries of Dickinson, N.D., have close ties to the nonprofit organization named in a major federal fraud indictment that includes Steve Bannon, a close associate of President Donald Trump.
Fisher has worked closely on two controversial high-profile projects with We Build the Wall, which was named in a 23-page indictment Thursday, Aug. 20. The indictment alleges four men, including Bannon and military veteran Brian Kolfage, orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors who gave to a massive online campaign that claimed to be raising money to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Prosecutors say Bannon, Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Peter Shea defrauded donors because, after promising all of the $25 million donated would go toward building a border wall and that they wouldn't take money personally, they collectively received hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund lavish lifestyles. The charges allege Kolfage took $350,000 donated for wall construction for his personal use. Bannon is accused of taking more than $1 million to pay Kolfage and to cover personal expenses.
Fisher and We Build the Wall, of which Bannon is a board member, are closely connected. In a recent online video interview, Bannon called Fisher "a colleague, a friend and a guy I would say is kind of a mentor."
Kolfage, the combative public face of We Build the Wall and an Air Force veteran who lost both his legs in combat, has publicly praised Fisher and Fisher Industries on Twitter.
Isn’t the wall supppsed to fall?! You idiots are suckers to the fake news. Fisher Industries is one of the top builders for civil engineer projects in the WORLD! Fisher has built the largest concrete cathedral-arch bridge in the world. His resume is second to none. #fakenews pic.twitter.com/PeH4Mn2ShK— Brian Kolfage (@BrianKolfage) July 25, 2020
Fisher, his construction company and We Build the Wall have worked together on two border wall projects that gained national attention.
We Build the Wall provided $1.5 million in seed money to Fisher Industries to construct 3 miles of border wall on private land near Mission, Texas, that has come under fire for violating an international treaty, being built too close to the Rio Grande River and for being shabbily constructed. We Build the Wall hired Fisher Industries to put up a wall on private land at Sunland Park, N.M., that was criticized for going forward without proper permitting. The group publicly celebrated Fisher's work.
Fisher Industries has since been awarded almost $2 billion in government contracts to build sections of border wall.
"ANOTHER HUGE WIN! Congrats Tommy Fisher!" Kolfage tweeted on May 17 after Fisher Industries was awarded a $1.28 billion federal contract to build border wall in Arizona.
ANOTHER HUGE WIN! Congrats Tommy Fisher! it’s clear you built @WeBuildtheWall the best border wall ever on the US border and now you’re being rewarded for your hard work @FisherSandG @realDonaldTrump @FoxFriendsFirst @charliekirk11 @FogCityMidge @fleccashttps://t.co/6dDcQJME4i— Brian Kolfage (@BrianKolfage) May 17, 2020
In the online video, Bannon lavishes praise on Fisher as he conducts the interview by phone. He asks Fisher about his construction techniques and says, "if you want to build a wall, I think you're the guy to ask."
Bannon also calls Fisher "an American patriot" and "a great mentor."
To be clear, neither Fisher nor Fisher Industries are named in the indictment.
The indictment goes into detail about how We Build the Wall set up shell companies, nonprofits and bank accounts to illegally distribute money from the organization to Kolfage, Bannon and Badolato.
One of the individuals is an unnamed construction contractor cited on page 14 and referred to as "Associate-2."
Prosecutors say Associate-2 was given more than $150,000 by We Build the Wall at the direction of Badolato to redistribute to Kolfage and Badolato.
"Associate-2 then paid $70,000 of those funds to KOLFAGE, another $50,000 of those funds to BADOLATO, and $20,000 to an attorney working on a matter for BADOLATO unrelated to We Build the Wall."
The indictment says that from the creation of We Build the Wall in January 2019 to about October 2019, Kolfage received more than $350,000 in donor funds all passed indirectly through a phony non-profit, a shell company "and the accounts controlled by Associate-1 and Associate-2."
There is no indication in the indictment that Tommy Fisher or Fisher Industries was involved in the alleged scheme in any way.
The Fisher family and company have a long history of legal problems, as outlined in previous columns and blogs.
Tommy Fisher and his brother Michael were among family members who court documents alleged "thumbed their noses at the federal government" when the Internal Revenue Service audited subsidiary Fisher Sand and Gravel and alerted the company of suspicious behavior.
Tommy and Michael were accused of billing personal expenses to the company, allegedly for more than 10 years. Michael was convicted of tax fraud in 2009 and spent three years in federal prison. Tommy was implicated in the report, but was not charged with a crime.
Fisher Industries has been fined multiple times for pollution or environmental infractions. A federal sexual harassment suit also claimed the company "subjected two women workers to egregious verbal sexual harassment by a supervisor and then fired one of them after she repeatedly asked the supervisor to stop harassing her."
In addition, David Fisher, another brother who worked with the family business, was convicted in 2005 on federal child pornography charges. The company says David has not worked with Fisher Industries since 2003.
Fisher and his company are favorites of Trump, who saw Tommy Fisher make multiple appearances on Fox News. Trump has said U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., has also pitched Fisher to the president.
Cramer and U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-North Dakota, are strong supporters of Tommy Fisher and Fisher Industries, openly praising them and refusing to back away even with Fisher is involved with controversies. Like Tommy Fisher, Armstrong is from Dickinson and the two are longtime friends.