Private border wall hearing Thursday, first since We Build The Wall indictments

The Border Wall

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The builder of a controversial private border wall has a hearing scheduled Thursday in federal court in McAllen, Texas, the first hearing in two months and the first since the Aug. 20 indictments and arrests of leaders of We Build The Wall, which crowdsourced to raise money to build the wall south of Mission, Texas.

Plaintiffs in two cases related to the construction of the private border wall — the United States of America vs. Fisher Industries, et al.; and North American Butterfly Association, et al. vs. Neuhaus & Sons LLC, et al — are to convene on a morning status conference with U.S. Judge Randy Cane of the Southern District of Texas.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all cases are being heard via phone, and this is the first hearing to be held since leaders of the nonprofit organization We Build The Wall were indicted and arrested on charges of fraud and misspending much of the $25 million they raised from private donations.

The last hearing was held July 8 during which time the builder of the 3-mile stretch of the private border wall, Tommy Fisher, admitted in federal court that there were overgrown grass and weeds and soil erosion at the base of the 18-foot-tall galvanized steel wall that his company, Fisher Sand & Gravel, put up in January along the banks of the Rio Grande on private property.

Tommy Fisher, CEO of Fisher Sand & Gravel Company, shows a section of private border wall being constructed on Jan. 4, 2020, south of Mission, Texas, on private property along the banks of the Rio Grande. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Fisher promised to clean up the area and the court sanctioned a visit to the property with the parties shortly thereafter to view the site. But then Hurricane Hanna struck on July 26, dumping upwards of 10 inches of rain on Mission and bringing 90 mph winds to the region.

Photos posted on social media after the hurricane showed heavy erosion on the ground, and the executive director of the National Butterfly Center, Marianna Treviño Wright, standing in a hip-deep hole.

The National Butterfly Center is a neighboring nonprofit that sued to stop construction of the wall claiming it will not stand up to the harsh climate and is a threat to area properties. Treviño Wright also has filed a defamation lawsuit against Brian Kolfage and We Build The Wall, claiming they have made defamatory comments about her on social media and said she was involved in “human trafficking” and “drug smuggling.”

Kolfage is among those indicted on Aug. 20, along with Steve Bannon, a former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump. They allegedly used fake invoices and sham vendor arrangements to try to hide how they spent donated funds that were sent in for the construction of the private border wall.

Immediately after the indictments and arrests, Treviño Wright said she was considering adding Bannon to the lawsuit.

Hidalgo County officials have informed the landowner, sugar cane farmer Lance Neuhaus of Neuhaus & Sons, that that they would be valuing the land where the private border wall is built at $20.2 million, which would result in taxes of nearly half a million dollars. This is up from the 2019 valuation of $272,000 placed the property by the Hidalgo County Appraisal District.

Fisher told Border Report that he was going to put down a layer of gravel to help smooth the ground base and to help prevent further erosion. But photos posted by the National Butterfly Center are critical of his recent efforts, especially after several more inches of rain fell this past Labor Day weekend, apparently further eroding the sandy soil.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

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