Steve Bannon was the chief strategist for the President of the United States. Why has it taken until now—more than four years later—for his proximity to power to begin to give people pause?
Even so, it’s uncanny. Stephen K. Bannon was accused last week of exactly the same federal offenses he was warning might befall Trump partisans in Mueller’s Russia investigation: money laundering using phony shell corporations.
“You realize where this is going,” he said, “in Fire and Fury,” by Michael Wolff. “This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy.”
“It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner [expletive]. … They’re going to go right through that,” Bannon said. “They’re going to roll those two guys up and say, ‘play me or trade me.’”
“Their path to [expletive] Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, [Donald Trump Jr.] and Jared Kushner … money – laundering activities by Trump associates. […]he set up over 2,000, you know, phony shell corporations with bank accounts and helped use that money in the bank accounts for the people doing the money laundering from Russia to get luxury apartments and luxury condos.”
Both Bannon and his former lieutenant were charged with setting up shell corporations to launder money from the “Build the Wall” fund.
Here’s what’s uncanny: Nobody noticed.
It’s summertime, but the livin’ ain’t easy.
Nowhere was that clearer than in last week’s indictment for conspiracy and money laundering of four men, including Steven K. Bannon, former Presidential advisor, and Andrew M. Badolato, his former lieutenant.
Badolato has been the subject of a number of stories in this space, beginning September of 2016, in “Trump campaign chief’s hidden ties to Sarasota grifter.”
I subsequently found it necessary to mention his name a further eleven times, most recently in “From Barry Seal to Donald Trump.”
I also have a webpage, titled “Andrew Badolato Bookmarks,” consisting of links to his various financial crimes, for which, to date, he’s been charged with precisely none.
In network demographics, they call people who watch The Weather Channel for more than three hours a day “weather-involved.”
I guess you could call me “Badolato-involved.”
So, what do I think?
I think there’s a lot they’re not telling us. I think that summer-time living won’t be easy for Steve Bannon, especially after he’s had time to reflect on his co-defendant Badolato’s history as a confidential FBI informant.
There’s usually only one deal out there. Bannon may already have been beaten to the trough.
And that’s just the beginning of the story that’s been peeled away and is beginning to be exposed by the indictment. Another huge chunk was exposed, just when the Feds went to pick up Bannon.
“My friend, an historic drug trafficker, with many firsts to his credit”
Hours before Steve’s Bannon’s arrest for ‘ripping off hundreds of thousands of donors in the “We Build the Wall” fundraiser scam, an enterprising photographer caught a pic of Steve Bannon relaxing aboard a fugitive Chinese billionaire’s 150-foot superyacht.
It provided a telling contrast with one of his co-conspirators, Ben somebody, recently pictured captaining his boat at a Trump regatta. The men raised money claiming their idea was ‘Trump approved,’ and took in $20 million on GoFundMe before being kicked off the platform.
Bannon cleared a cool million for his part in the scheme. His partner got $350,000. And he had to do most of the work.
But what has—or should have—tongues wagging, is that “certain something” Bannon and Badolato brought to the party. Unless it’s spun just right, it threatens the abyss. It could bring down the whole megillah.
First of all, the yacht.
A year ago I wrote a series of stories about a huge drug bust aboard a container ship at the Port of Philadelphia. 20 tons of cocaine. And change. (How much change depends on how long it’s there.) Worth $1.3 billion dollars.
I wrote about how the poor mentally-challenged U.S. Attorney didn’t know whether to shit or go blind, because the 20 tons was being moved by allies of Trump’s, of the Russian persuasion.
I’m sure you remember.
Anyway, I was able to boil it down to two suspects, who may have been acting in concert.
You won’t read about what follows in the New York Times— which continues to call Andy Badolato a “businessman.” Today they would probably call famed bank robber John Dillinger an “unauthorized withdrawal specialist.
”The yacht Bannon is draping himself all over is owned by a fugitive Chinese billionaire named Guo Wengui. Guo became a fugitive after he went sideways with the Chinese government. Today he hangs out most days at his 9,000 square foot residence overlooking Central Park in Manhattan.
Until two years ago Guo was the No. 2 man at China’s HNA Group, which was staring at bankruptcy. Moreover, there were, in New York Times-speak, “deepened uncertainties surrounding the debt-laden Chinese conglomerate’s restructuring.
It looks like Bannon’s buddy got out just in time.
That’s because Guo’s boss, the chairman of HNA, recently snapped the most expensive selfie ever taken while vacationing in the South of France. Police said he was leaning way out over an embankment to get a good shot of himself when he took a 50-foot plunge to the picturesque base of this picturesque hilltop village
The key headline: Shares of HNA Group’s listed entities dropped on news of the abrupt death of its key deal-maker Wang Jian.”
Even locally, where they have no rooting interest in corporate wars in China, there was considerable dissension with the police account. Even among French police, who doubted he’d committed suicide.
Guys worth $50 billion have people who take their selfies for them. More importantly, a lot of people in town were convinced he was murdered.
And HNA Group— which owns a staggering $35 billion worth of investments in the U.S.—was down its two top executives, 20 tons of cocaine, and still hadn’t been bailed out.
Remember I wrote that I was able to boil it down to two suspects? The other one is MSC MEDITERRANEAN SHIPPING, owned by Italy’s biggest Mafia clan.
Dishing the dirt in Sarasota Florida
“An area native was one of four men arrested on federal charges of allegedly being a part of a scheme to bilk funds from proponents of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border,” reported the Venice Gondolier.
“Andrew Badolato, 56, appeared in federal court in Tampa on Thursday after being arrested earlier in the day. There, he took part in a virtual hearing based in the Southern District of New York.”
Three years after the turn of the century, 2003, Bannon and Badolato jointly launched second careers in serial stock fraud. All of this was well-known in Sarasota, Florida.
Joey BARQUIN is as close to a hipster as white bread Sarasota; Florida will probably ever see. He’s spent 30 years living on Florida’s Sun Coast, but his skin still has that urban nighttime pallor. He wears a fedora, with a brim pulled down over his eyes.
It’s a Rat Pack -ready look. He’s Runyon-esque
Joey Barquin is a long-time Sarasota investor who said he’d been defrauded by Andy Badolato, a man he said he’d known for 25 years. Now he held a grudge.
Cops will tell you: confidential informants usually fall into one of two categories: bitter ex-wives or angry guys whose former business partners owe them money. Joey was one of the angry guys.
I went to Casey Key because of a tip from Joey. There was something I had to see, he told me over the phone. I needed to take a drive up to Casey Key to take a look at the current status of his fraudster ex-partner Andy Badolato’s beach house.
He said, “Don’t ask questions. Just go there and you’ll see.”
Before his directive, I’d written several dozen stories reporting on various aspects of the nexus that was blatantly visible in Sarasota between the Republican Party and organized crime.
Because of Joey, I learned I knew nothing. I’ll be forever grateful.
Andy the Snitch
Andy Badolato was assisted in his corporate endeavors by ‘business associates.’ Many are currently incarcerated, at least one of them for threatening his life. As they headed for the joint, they left strewn behind them the wreckage of plundered public companies.
IBVG faced problems most firms will never encounter. Mike Muzio and three other company officers were all sent to prison at the same time, for pretty much the same crimes.
That left only one company officer unindicted, only one man left to watch the store. Andy Badolato remained free, triggering widespread suspicion that he had a hall pass from the FBI. This marks him as a member of some kind of Chosen Elite.
It’s a story that’s sure to give Steve Bannon indigestion as he contemplates his upcoming trail.
Joey said, “Somehow I happened to be in the office with Badolato on the day two FBI agents out of FBI Tampa came in. Younger agents. They sat him down and informed Badolato that it was basically a coin flip between him and Jonathon Curshen to see which of them would be spending the next 20 years in prison.”
“They decided Curshen was the bigger fish to take down. He had extensive international ties. So, instead, the agents flipped Andy Badolato. He started wearing a wire.”
Barquin’s not referring to last week’s arrest. This conversation took place a year ago.
“Badolato is a close friend and associate of Steve Bannon’s. He’s worked for and with Bannon,” said Barquin. “But who Badolato is really is a professional con man.”
“What I knew about Badolato—well before the feds busted him—was that for years he’d been secretly recording all his phone calls with Bannon,” Joey told me. “He has the goods on Bannon. It was his insurance policy. He thought it made him bulletproof.”
Badolato had surreptitiously taped phone conversations with the President’s chief advisor. Anytime but now, and anywhere but here, that would be a big story.
Joey continued. “And he was right. Because he’d already been secretly busted by the FBI, and then cut a deal. So, they already knew about the recordings.”
Also, he’s a known sexual predator who preys on underage girls. This is not acceptable.”
There was strong evidence indicating he was telling the truth. Sarasota police reports detailed his often-abusive behavior with women. He’d been accused of rape on several occasions. But nothing ever stuck.
“When the Trump family heard that Badolato had secretly been taping Bannon,” Joey said, with some satisfaction, “Bannon’s days were numbered, and they soon got rid of him.”
“Sodom & Gomorrah with a ticker tape”
Financial fraud and drug trafficking have long and storied histories in Sarasota. The two had already come together— in the person of a man named Kenneth G. Burnstine— by the mid 1960’s.
When Steve Bannon and Andy Badolato’s crew of alt-right grifters started racking up big financial fraud scores in the early 2000’s, combining drug trafficking with financial crime already had a storied history in Sarasota, and much slicker cities— Boca Raton, Palm Beach—were taking notice.
When Donald Trump unexpectedly won in 2016, Joey told me, he’d been shocked. He quickly decided he had a civic duty to warn the FBI and other law enforcement agencies about Steve Bannon’s lowlife Sarasota associate Badolato. Plus, it was fun.
Joey told them Badolato represented a real security risk to the incoming Administration.
The Bannon-Badolato bust was a stark reminder of how much you can get away with—and for how long—when you’re a well-connected white guy engaging in organized white-collar crime. American “hot-spots” include Palm Beach, Boca Raton, and Sarasota. Only La Jolla keeps it from being a “Florida” sweep.
During Watergate, the villains looked like ordinary businessmen. That standard appears to no longer apply.
“Bannon looks like a guy selling exotic reptiles on the Venice Beach boardwalk,” said Late Night host Seth Myers.
“Or like a guy who lists his home address as the swim-up bar at the Mirage.”
I think he looks like the kind of guy featured on “Airplane Repo.”
Bannon and Badolato both look like guys who have just lost their ride.
The local angle
The local angle news coverage of Bannon and Badolato’s arrest was enough to make me laugh out loud.
A clearly discomfited Daniela Hurtado from Sarasota’s ABC7 was standing outside what her assignment editor had obviously told her was going to be Andy Badolato’s house. Now the standup she’d written to deliver in front of the house had been ruined, because there was no house to give it in front of.
“ABC7 went to Badolato’s former home, and neighbors tell us the home went into foreclosure a few months ago and has since been demolished,” she reported, weakly.
Months earlier, I’d felt exactly the same way. I was standing in the middle of the same narrow two-lane road which snakes through Casey Key, gazing in slack-jawed wonder at what used to lay directly across the street… but was now gone.
Why “vanished without a trace” is such a cliché, I suddenly realized, was because it’s exactly what springs to mind when you’re left fumbling for words.
It had been a 15-year old yellow McMansion with a circular driveway on Casey Key, known as “an exclusive enclave” of Sarasota. The home had been worth $1.8 million.
Because of Bannon’s claiming it as his official residence, it had become a relatively famous house, too. A quick change of residence became necessary when the Guardian revealed it was empty and abandoned. And—amid whispers about Bannon’s former wife, who used to live there— rumors it had been a crack den.
Steve Bannon was the padrone for a group of alt-right fraudsters in Sarasota. Their number included Andy Badolato, Jonathon Curshen, as well as a hapless Mobster from near-by Tampa named Michael Muzio.
Muzio, recently paroled from a six year federal prison sentence, ‘owned’ Blue Moon Group, a subsidiary of Adnan Khashoggi’s GenesisIntermedia, which had no revenue, but which nonetheless issued a press release announcing it had purchased, for three-quarts of a million dollars, a piano from Elvis Presley’s estate.
Steve Bannon rose to power first as Breitbart News chairman and later became Donald Trump’s chief strategist after Paul Manafort experienced a spot of bother because of his relationship with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, from whom he’s received more than $18 million for unspecified services.
Less well known is the fact that Bannon spent much of the past decade and a half using complex financial mechanisms—he kind ordinarily employed by only the largest financial services firms—to help him as an investor in penny-stocks.
The Bannon group’s penny-stock companies were instantly recognizable. They were Lilliputian in size, but employed complex corporate maneuvers favored by the financial masters of the universe, including transnational acquisitions, reverse mergers, and asset purchase agreements — as if they were real companies, which they were not.
POLITICO reported, “In the years before Bannon emerged as a populist critic of financial wizardry run amok, most of his companies failed to take off, and were often in the throes of legal troubles.
“The throes of legal troubles.”
Then there’s Andrew M. Badolato, whose relationship with former presidential adviser Steve Bannon goes back decades. By a tender age, Andy had already founded and helmed numerous public companies, which all floundered, like unwanted babies exposed on a cliff in Sparta.
Henry Ford brought technology to bear on the problem of mass-producing cars. Badolato performed a similar feat. He brought modern management concepts to bear on a problem in serial financial fraud, of people feeling that paydays took too long, and were too far apart.
Andy’s answer was speed. He had companies circling overhead, ready to land whenever a previous flight crashed and burned, which they always did.
Badolato’s The Renewable Corporation was a Washington company with a Utah transfer agent. With Badolato presiding at all times, The Renewable Corp had formerly been known as Industrial Biotechnology Corporation.
Industrial Biotechnology Corporation, in turn, had formerly been known as Newtrack Mining, which had formerly been known as Track II Industries, which had itself formerly been known as Bare Track Industries.
Clearly nothing good would come of it. But it kept getting recycled, fitted with a fresh name, and a new symbol for the OTC.
Other pump and dump schemes the network was involved with, are presented to show how industrious Andy Badolato et al were about serial stock fraud.
Companies included: “About Main St Inc;” “Donna Messenger Corp” (with partner Steve Bannon); “EC-3;” “Halcyon Partners;” “Crabby Bill’s;” “Red Sea Management;” “Triton Network Systems;” “Teranex;” ” Military Command Technologies;” “Co2tech;” “Big Game Holding;” “Homepals,” IBVR. Bye-bye Now.com;” “Cambridge Analytica;” “Sargon;” “Sinofresh;” “Savviss; and “Infinium.”
Also Frogads.com, The Kingdom of Humanity, The Republic of Morac-Songhrati-Meads, Geo-Bio Inc. E-3. Uniphyd.
Also “Titan;” “Surebeam;” “Globalnet.com;” “Telsat;” “Jitney International;” “Bio-Flovorance Technologies;” The USA Exchange Inc.;” “I-PREPAY.com; “I-Teleco.com;” “Telsatnet Inc;” “World Capita Communications, Inc.”; “XO Communications, Inc;” “Homeland Security Tracking Inc;” “Skyway Communications Inc.”; “Donna Blue Aircraft Inc;” “GenesisIntermedia.com;” “Genesis Aviation;” “Genesis Aeronautics;” “The DuPont Investment Fund;” and “White Knights & Vultures.”
In the indictment charging Bannon, Badolato, and two other men, SunTrust Bank is enjoined to return money paid to “White Knights & Vultures.”
When bad publicity and his embarrassing penchant for running public companies into the ground scuppered his dreams of a role in the Administration, Andy Badolato was crushed. Any title at all would have been acceptable. There were plenty of things he was good at “Procurement Officer in charge of walking around money” would have been ideal.
But what’s important about Andy Badolato is: He’s no ordinary grifter. Many of his biggest scams have had quasi-official sanction. One example He partnered with Lockheed and Raytheon and helmed a company which got a $200 million loan from Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s business initiative, “Enterprise Florida.”
Alas, for “Enterprise Florida,” and Florida taxpayers, both took a bath.
But by far Badolato’s most fascinating quality was that he was Teflon. Shielded from indictment, even in cases in which ordinary mortals did serious time.
Andy faced failure like a trouper. It was almost as if he expected it. He never batted an eye. Eventually, however, his behavior began reflecting poorly on Steve Bannon, who was much more of a public figure, and already looking more than usually disheveled.
There were obvious clues pointing to transnational organized crime, which no one in Republican circles in Sarasota wanted to face.
“Where we go one, we go all.”
Steve Bannon and Andy Badolato’s alt-right Sarasota criminal network was held together by allegiance to Trump, and successfully stole hundreds of millions of dollars. Some of this hot money presumably wormed its way into Trump’s presidential campaign coffers. Sarasota wasn’t where the stupid started. But it was where it was funded, at least in part.
When Steve Bannon’s Cambridge Analytica declared bankruptcy in the U.K., for example, the Sarasota Herald Tribune discovered that a local Sarasota company— controlled by Bannon—was one of the companies owed money. ‘
These are not-inconsequential sums. Just one of them—Adnan Khashoggi’s GenesisIntermdia.com stock fraud was a masterful piece of work which netted more than $300 million. Someday they’ll be teaching it in classrooms in places like Boca Raton University.
On Sarasota’s Bayfront, is a 26-foot-tall statue, an oversized recreation of the famous photograph from the V-J celebration in Times Square of the end of the war of a nameless serviceman dipping an unknown nurse while stealing a kiss.
Around its base is a (metaphorical) mountain of cash, generated by one of the city’s most thriving industries: financial fraud. It’s a monument to kitsch, utterly devoid of irony, and also explains why Sarasota police once busted the innocuous Pewee-wee Herman or pulling his pud there in a Pussycat Theater.
“Being connected means never having to say you’re sorry.”
The question is: How did Brooklyn native and Florida transplant Badolato get his stroke?
An aviation observer in Fort Lauderdale (who used to do more than observe) explained The Big Picture to me in pithy fashion. “What it is,” he told me, “is a never-ending scandal. It’s one scandal. But it’s never-ending. It’s a mystery. Like the Trinity.”
It’s not ‘the scandal of Medicare or financial fraud or pay-for-play Universities. Just ‘The Scandal.’
“The Scandal.” Full stop. It’s monolithic. It operates right out in the open. It keeps chugging on.
I had noticed, I told this source, that some of the people who had at one time been involved in Iran Contra popped up again later, while George W. Bush was President, and remained active today.
He smiled. “That’s why they call it organized crime.”