Stephen K. Bannon was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering on August 20, 2020. The former top advisor to President Donald Trump was federally charged along with three others — Timothy Shea, Andrew Badolato and Brian Kolfage — in what prosecutors say was a scheme to steal funds from donors to the “We Build The Wall” campaign, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
While Fisher Industries was not named in the indictment, it is the parent company of Fisher Sand and Gravel, the construction company hired by Bannon’s “We Build the Wall” campaign to make the 3-mile Texas wall a reality, Forbes reported.
Tommy Fisher, CEO of the family-owned company, went on Fox News to personally lobby for Trump’s attention and win his firm the project. On March 5, 2019, Fisher said on Fox & Friends that his company could build 234 miles of border wall for $4.3 billion, well under the $5.7 billion that the Trump administration had requested from Congress.
Fisher Industries, which has eight divisions and an estimated 1,200 employees, beat out the five competing firms asked to develop prototypes of the wall to win the $400 million border wall contract. Despite their award being repeatedly contested, and the company’s history of criminal tax evasion, pollution citations, environmental fines, and a former CEO charged with child pornography, Bannon’s privately funded campaign chose their firm to build the wall.
Here’s what you need to know about Fisher Industries’ checkered past:
Former Fisher Sand & Gravel Foreman David William Fisher Pleaded Guilty in 2005 to Child Pornography Charges
David William Fisher, who was the foreman at Fisher Sand and Gravel and chairman of the Dickinson United Methodist Church’s administrative council, pleaded guilty in 2005 to child pornography charges, according to the Bismarck Tribune. Fisher acknowledged to U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland that he possessed two short video clips and an estimated 23 computer files of child pornography in March 2003.
According to court documents obtained by the Bismarck Tribune, six of the images were of a 10-year-old girl whom Fisher had hired to help with office chores. “Everything that’s here, you know it’s true,” Fisher said at the hearing. “I don’t have any excuses. I don’t have any rational reasons why I did what I did.”
The U.S. District Court in Bismarck sentenced him to five years in prison, according to High Plains Reader, and to pay restitution, including to the 10-year-old victim.
Fisher Industries Has Paid Over $1 Million in Fines
On May 29, 2009, Tommy Fisher’s brother Michael Fisher, a former co-owner of Fisher Sand and Gravel, was sentenced to 37 months in prison, fined $90,000 and ordered to pay $307,069 in restitution after pleading guilty to “conspiracy to defraud the United States by impeding the IRS, four counts of aiding in the filing of false federal tax returns for FSG, and four counts of filing false individual tax returns.”
As summarized by the U.S. Justice Department:
Fisher caused FSG employees to pay for personal expenses such as construction expenses and furnishings for his personal residence and a recreation building, construction expenses for improvements to Tiger Discount, a gas station owned and controlled by Fisher, as well as household and utility bills, vacations, credit card bills and legal expenses for him and other Fisher family members. According to court documents and testimony, these payments for Fisher were never reported to the IRS, they were deducted on the FSG corporate income tax returns, and Fisher failed to report all of his income on his individual income tax returns.
In October 2008, FSG’s former chief financial officer Amiel Schaff pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. A year later, in May 2009, FSG’s former comptroller Clyde Frank plead guilty to the same charge. FSG was also charged in the superseding indictment with conspiracy to defraud the United States:
In May 2009, the United States reached a deferred prosecution agreement with FSG in which FSG admitted responsibility for defrauding the United States. The agreement requires FSG to pay a total of $1.16 million in restitution, penalties and fines, implement measures to prevent future fraud at the company, and cooperate with the IRS in audits of its tax returns. Under that agreement, prosecution against FSG is deferred until December 2011.
In 2019, CNN asked Fisher Industries to comment on their history of environmental violations and legal issues. They said, “The questions you are asking have nothing to do with the excellent product and work that Fisher is proposing with regard to protecting America’s southern border. The issues and situations in your email were resolved years ago. None of those matters are outstanding today.”
Fisher Industries Paid $150,000 to Settle a Sexual Discrimination & Retaliation Suit in 2011
In May 2011, Fisher Industries settled a lawsuit for sexual harassment and retaliation filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for $150,000, the agency announced in a press release:
“The EEOC’s lawsuit charged that Fisher Sand & Gravel Co. violated federal anti-discrimination laws when it 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 and complained to a job superintendent.”
Sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, and retaliation against persons who oppose unlawful employment practices were in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Fisher Sand & Gravel Co., 09-CV-309 WFD/WPL), and it was settled before the trial started with a consent decree and a monetary settlement.
Senator Kevin Cramer Endorsed Fisher Industries to Build Trump’s Border Wall
Republican North Dakota Senator Kevin Cramer, who brought Fisher as his guest to Trump’s State of the Union address, promoted Fisher Industries to the president as the most cost-effective option for building the border wall, despite company’s accumulated 169 citations in Maricopa County, Arizona.
Cramer said, “I am honored Tommy accepted my invitation to attend the State of the Union. As Congress develops comprehensive immigrant enforcement legislation, I am proud to know a North Dakota company is a finalist to construct the border wall between our nation and Mexico. Fisher’s reputation for quality construction will be an asset for the nation’s security and a great deal for the American taxpayer.”
According to a report by The Washington Post, Trump urged aides to award them the contract.
One administration official working on the project told the Post that Trump was only sharing his high opinion of Fisher Industries and its CEO, “whom the president sees as an innovative thinker and loyal supporter.”
PR specialist Jaime Fisher told High Plains Reader that “Fisher Industries took full responsibility and that individuals involved in the scandals are no longer associated with Fisher Industries or subsidiaries… We take environmental responsibility very seriously. The environmental issues Fisher Sand & Gravel Company faced have been addressed and resolved.”
When Trump expressed his desire to spend an additional $500 million to paint the wall black, he instructed aides to seek input from Fisher Sand and Gravel, according to The Washington Post.
However, on Thursday, following Bannon’s arrest, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany asserted that Trump had “no involvement” in the “Build the Wall” project and “disagreed” with efforts to build the wall privately. McEnany said that Trump has “always felt” the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should build the wall.