NARCO-POLITK: ‘The Alt-Right Ponzi All-Stars’, Deep Dive Into Sarasota Deep State – By Daniel Hopsicker

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  • “…Sarasota County is to Republicans what Mena, Arkansas was to Clinton-era Democrats: one-party rule enforcing a level of secrecy necessary for large-scale drug trafficking and money laundering operations to flourish.”

Deep Dive into Sarasota Deep State

By Daniel Hopsicker

“Sarasota County is to Republicans what Mena, Arkansas was to Clinton-era Democrats: one-party rule enforcing a level of secrecy necessary for large-scale drug trafficking and money laundering operations to flourish.

Andrew M Badolato

Sarasota grifter Andrew Badolato (and maybe even Steve Bannon!) will stand in the dock of  the Federal Courthouse of the Southern District of New York in two months time, facing the fight of their lives over charges of serious fraud and money laundering in connection with more than $20 million in donations to the “Build the Wall” Foundation.

$20 million is a decent chunk of change. Moreover, Badolato and his cohorts always worked multiple deals at the same time, operating out of the sweaty boiler room of white-collar crime that powered Sarasota’s seemingly-unstoppable Stupid Train down the tracks.

How did we get here?

What follows are notes and information that might could prove useful to those few avid observers who can’t wait for the trial to begin. 

Introducing the Alt-Right Ponzi All-Stars..Steve Bannon, Andy Badolato, Mike Muzio, Adnan Khashoggi, and Jonathon Curshen are the heavy hitters and the heart of the line-up, like the Murderers Row of the old New York Yankees.

They formed a ‘hyena pack’ which swarmed like Israeli drones around the U.S. over-the-counter market.  

The potent stew was brought to a boil in a cauldron seasoned with Republican lawmakers, American Mobsters, the Russian Mafiya, retired CIA & DIA agents, former FAA officials, America’s self-proclaimed Spam King and Russia’s premier hacker, a couple, three, actually, witches from Macbeth, and some sleek reps from the TOC (transnational organized crime.)

Southern Florida is The Badlands of the Western World, and the subject of Gangster Planet, which will be released after the  end of the historic “Build the Wall” Trial this June; it traces the direct descent from government-sanctioned hijinks by “Barry & ‘the boys’” to recent intrigue in general aviation in South Florida, a constant feature of life here since the 9/11 attack. 

There’s also, to use the legal term, a shit-ton of stock fraud and other financial crime. Rather too much, in my opinion. The thrill  of watching pump and dump stock fraud play out is fleeting. After a dozen or so, you yearn for somebody to pull out a gun.

“Be careful what you wish for.”

August 2016. SarasotaSteve Bannon panics when he learns London’s Guardian is about to reveal some sordid details about the house in Miami where he has been registered to vote, but no longer lives. From the vantage point of five years of Trump, it seems a piddling concern.

During the heat of the 2016 Presidential campaign, Steve Bannon with the stroke of a pen, changed his legal address from a rumored crack den in Miami to Andy Badolato’s beach house on Casey Key in Sarasota, the bachelor digs of one of his alt-right writers at Breitbart News.

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Bannon succeeded in getting out in front of the Guardian scoop by a day. But the hasty action had unforeseen consequences. Sunlight is a powerful disinfectant. Bannon’s oh-so-criminally-close ties with Badolato were thrown into sharp relief.

There, in glorious living color, suddenly, all in one place, were the preeminent racketeers, grifters, flim-flam men, and bunco artists of the newly-emergent Trumplican national security state.

Immediately Badolato was catapulted into the ranks of semi-famous grifters. More importantly, a money-making mechanism  used to bust out micro-cap companies on an industrial scale came to light, with an innocuous name.

It’s called penny stock fraud, but in places like Sarasota, or Boca Raton, it raked in  hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Once you’ve seen Andy Badolato’s masterful grifter skills in action, they’re hard to forget. As his astonishing career came to light, it was hard not to feel a certain admiration for the shameless industriousness of it all.

Andy was an earner. 

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Badolato has been in Sarasota since he was a boy. We found a picture of him on the Cardinal Mooney High School baseball squad. You’ll have no trouble picking him out.

While the rest of the nation dithered over the meaning of Russian “collusion,” Andy was busily grinding out a string of multi-million-dollar scores. He became Mr. Serial Stock Fraud. He pumped, dumped, and drove into bankruptcy a dozen public companies.

It was horrible to watch. All of Andy Badolato’s numerous companies floundered like unwanted Spartan babies exposed to die at the base of a cliff.

Steve Bannon was Badolato’s partner in several of them.

The curious provenance of Andy Badolato’s beach house

Acting on a tip, I discovered, to my chagrin. that Andy’s beach house wasn’t there anymore. It was highly puzzling. It let you know you weren’t in Kansas anymore. Who demolishes a perfectly-good beach house less than 20 years old?

It was a good time to look at first principles, to examine unexamined assumptions. For example: Who sold Andy Badolato the beach house? Was it just a standard real estate transaction? Were there hidden interests involved?

And the corollary: In whose hands did it end up? Who purchased the beach house and then—to everyone’s surprise—had it torn down?

Until he sold it to Badolato in 1997, the house at 3108 Casey Key Road had been owned by a certain Bradford Baker. (That’s an early photo of him at left, from when he was still known as a boy wonder.)

On the other end, Andy’s beach house ended its nasty brutish and short life in the hands of Dean LeBaron, a wealthy retired hedge fund operator from Boston.

Efforts to reach Baron and LeBaron received no response. My name has always—for wholly admirable reasons— been “mud” in Sarasota, Florida, which has been rightly called “the meanest city in America” by USA Today.

The three owners of the beach house— Bradford Baker, Andrew Badolato himself, and Dean LeBaron— share things in common which, were their similarities to ever become widely-known, no doubt raise a few eyebrows.

Did these shared characteristics offer any clues to any hidden entities lurking behind the scenes in Sarasota?

“You betcha, Your Honor!”

Sen Mel Martinez with George W Bush

The important thing to remember is that Andy Badolato’s Sarasota fuckery had the imprimatur of the national Republican party. Earlier in the hyena pack’s remarkable skein of fraud, the focus of the pump and dump fraud had been SkyWay Communications in St Petersburg, whose DC-9 was getting a workout by Florida Senator Mel Martinez, flitting hither and yon in his duties as the GOP’s National Finance Chairman.

The same DC-9 will later be busted carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine in Mexico’s Yucatan. But  nobody should blame poor Sen. Martinez for that.

Since Arab student pilots first began flooding local flight schools during the run-up to the 9/11 attack, the question of what’s been going on in Sarasota County has always been an urgent one. At least to me. Watching unexplained phenomenon unfold can be a profound experience.

I’m always left with one thought: Somebody should take a look.

The Winning Edge: Efficiencies of Scale +  A Credible Threat of Violence

Sarasota fooled me. The place looks so clean and shiny on the surface. The city even took out all the park benches, so homeless people wouldn’t sit on them and get them dirty.

I missed asteroid-sized chunks of the story. What makes TOC (transnational organized crime) insidious is the combination of the efficiency of the global corporation with the creditable threat of violence. I had a hard time picturing gangsters staying at the Ritz-Carlton. My bad.

Because there’s no doubt that looks can be deceiving. For example, Sarasota was home to  Arthur C. Nadel, called the “Mini-Madoff,” who ran a Ponzi scheme that stole $300 million from local investors,  numerous charities, and the public at large.

Even though he looked like Wally Cox, Art Nadel was a player. $300 million, we can all agree, is a “big boy” score.  Plus, several years earlier, he’d gotten the nod to take over Huffman Aviation in Venice from Wally Hilliard, who was tired of getting bad press, even in his hometown Green Ba, WI.

“Sarasota… mean? I mean, come on!”

Funny story: Pee-Wee’s Playhouse star Pee-wee Herman (aka Paul Reubens) came home to Sarasota to see his parents, and got arrested for indecent exposure at an XXX-rated movie theater on the South Tamiami Trail.

It destroyed his career. What’s funny about that is comparing Pee-Wee jerking off in a dark theater watching porn to Andy Badolato’s far more serious sexual peccadillos, which include multiple allegations of rape, and were covered up by the Sarasota Sheriff’s Department, an outfit with a particularly-checkered past, even for Sarasota.

But Sarasota is not just mean. It’s got miles and miles of beaches with fine sand and shallow turquoise water. And it continues coming up in the world.

New Sarasota homebuyers include Rosie O’Donnell, on Casey Key; Michael Kors on Longboat Cay; and James Carville and Mary Matalin on Golden Gate Point.

Golden Gate Point

However, to those with a taste for noir, or dark sense of humor, Sarasota looks like the funeral of a lounge lizard no longer basking in the sun. Front and center is a huge horseshoe-shaped and flower-bedecked wreath, and at its center an LED display blinking  the message ‘From your friends in TOC (transnational organized crime.)

Someone once asked famous mystery novelist John D. MacDonald where he got his material. He said, “I read the Herald-Tribune every day.”

A local grandee used threat of a lawsuit to encourage MacDonald  to cut the following passage, which, no surprise, conveys the essence of Sarasota:

“She stood at the opposite end of the room against a plate glass window overlooking the bright blue water of the Gulf. She was small, the way a pit bull is small, with her hair dyed a harsh shade of gold not found in the natural order of things.

Her skin was the tough brown skin of a middle-aged woman who takes  golf too seriously. Another 18 holes and you could use it to upholster a couch.

“Travis,” she said, sucking greedily on her Kool. “It’s been a long time.”

“Hello, Mother.”

“World Star Fraud”

Bradford D. BakerThe man who “sold” Andy Badolato his ill-fated beach house on Casey Key was Bradford D. Baker.  The quotes around “sold” are because of doubt over whether this was an arms-length transaction between independent entities. Or not. Who knows if money even changed hands? Why?

Bradford D. Baker has some major Republican Party credentials his ownself.

From his bio: “In 1988 Baker was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as one of the youngest White House Fellows ever.”

“Later he was appointed Corporate Secretary of the newly established Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC), which was established to reorganize the entire thrift banking industry by George H.W. Bush. There, he served alongside Alan Greenspan, Nicolas Brady, and Jack Kemp.”

After selling Badolato the Casey Key beach house in 1997, two years later Baker was tapped by Florida Governor Jeb Bush to be the new Executive Director of the Florida Housing Finance Corp. His mission was to dole out $170 million in state funds, to build low-income housing in Florida.

Conspiracy theorists may recall that the state of Arkansas had a similar agency to Baker’s Florida Housing Finance Corp, the Arkansas Housing Finance Corporation, which prompted the Whitewater Scandal, which, as I’m sure you recall, was about misappropriated state housing money in Arkansas.

At least that’s what it was about until Monica Lewinsky showed up, and blew everyone a kiss.

Since Bradford had some heavy Republican supply-side credentials, was his selling a beach house to alt-right fraudster Andrew M. Badolato meant in some fashion to signify the passing of the (very right-handed) torch?

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One year after being appointed by Jeb Bush, there were disclosures of Brad Baker’s playing fast and loose with taxpayer money. He was roundly criticized for mismanagement, and forced out of the agency.

There followed a state investigation into allegations he had made extremely racially insensitive remarks during his firing of seven female black state employees.

There were also charges that he used Florida state time and money to campaign for Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s brother, then Republican Presidential candidate George W. Bush.

Bradford hit the trifecta.

To recap: Brad Baker was accused of mismanaging $170 million in state housing funds, made  racially insensitive remarks to black female state employees, and was alleged to have used state time and money for Texas Governor George W. Bush’s Presidential campaign.

That’s World Star fraud.

Whiz Kid whizzes

There’s something even more unusual about Bradford D. Baker: He was the grateful recipient of friendly to fawning coverage in local newspapers , which seemed happy--based on absolutely no evidence--to repeatedly describe him as a rich and successful young businessman.

He was a wunderkind. A boy genius. A whiz kid.  One of the youngest ever at nearly everything he did.

Only…he wasn’t.

On the occasion of his selling his stake in a company he founded called Tech: Time Inc., a laudatory piece appeared in the Tampa Times on Aug 3, 1987  called “The Road to Fortune”

The headline was “Millionaire, 27, had early start.” 

In it, he calculates he’ll be worth $13.2 million by the time he’s 40.

“13.2” is priceless. It makes you think that he’s really worked it out. What a bright guy!

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A Tampa Times puff piece on Baker Aug 12, 1985, headlined “Nerd No More” informed readers that the “25-year-old whiz kid who founded Computer Centre retail outlets was now taking on computerized time clocks.

“The tall blond Baker thinks Tech Time is a sure winner, and investors seem to agree.”

“Colorado underwriters R.B. Marich said all 2.5 million outstanding shares were gobbled up shortly after being put on the market.”

“The reason we like Tech Time is its management, which is Brad Baker,” lauded Jim McDonough, Florida operations manager for R.B. Marich.

I wondered: who are those guys?  As I was to learn, they’re bit players, but not incidental to the action, the “Rosenkranz and Guildenstern” of Sarasota scandal. 

“Jim McDonough & R. B. Marich”  

“Animal spirits” are defined as “the human urge to take positive action, even if the decision to do so isn’t fully rooted in logic or mathematical probabilities.”

Jim and Rudy would both seem to be down with that.

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Then I discovered that the buzzkills at the FBI had squashed Rudy Marich’s animal spirits. According to an Associated Press story on Aug 19, 1990, the FBI field office in Albuquerque was announcing that Marich was facing federal racketeering charges related to penny stock schemes.

Oh my.

After discovering that bit of white-collar fraud, I threw caution to the winds and did a search on  Rudy  Marich’s Florida operations manager, Jim McDonough, who had been so high on Brad Baker’s company a few years before.

McDonough had been Florida’s drug czar under Jeb Bush, where he was accused of “playing God with the environment” for proposing the state spread an experimental fungus throughout Florida wilderness areas in an effort to eradicate marijuana.

McDonough then did a stint as Florida’s prison boss, taking over Florida’s “decayed prison system, which was “reeling from multiple investigations nagging at Gov Jeb Bush’s law-and-order legacy,” according to the April 3, 2006 Miami Herald.

Maybe it wasn’t a rabbit hole we’d fallen into. Still, the story was dark…all the way down.

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Much later Bradford Baker will admit, perhaps in an unguarded moment, that the business life of his company Tech Time had been both brief and rocky. The moment of candor came in the July 29, 1992 Tampa Tribune.

Bradford was announcing he was throwing his hat in the ring in the Republican primary for the 13th Congressional District, encompassing Sarasota and Manatee Counties.

Headlined “Congressional candidate had rocky business life,” the story  seemingly put paid to  the  “whiz kid millionaire at 25” hoopla.

Back in the bad old days at the Sarasota Herald-Trib

But not every media outlet wants to rain on Bradford D. Baker’s parade. Back in the bad old days at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, while the paper was still being run by former acolytes of the long-time publishers David Breed Lindsay, Sr. and his son, the aptly-named David Breed Lindsay Jr.—it has since changed hands, and it’s like the difference between Pravda and USA Today — the paper did story on Bradford hoping to do a bit of business witht he city.

Baker wanted  to build a 108-unit moderate income complex in the city, the Herald-Tribune  reported on April 11, 2004. The story focused on his previous low-income housing construction experience. While Baker was building a low-income housing project in Kansas, he had, unusually, lived in the project.

The experience had taught him, a local Kansas paper had already reported, was  a greater appreciation for  “basketball and watermelon.”

His peccadillos went unnoticed.

Both companies he sold, which had made him rich before he was 25, it was reported, almost immediately went bankrupt.

It didn’t rate a mention. Which goes to the heart of what used to make Sarasota such a fun place to operate for those the fortunate few who found themselves in the good graces of the local Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Finally, Bradford Baker “just happens,” as they say, to be a devotee of a visionary Russian “Post humanist” named Nikolai Fedorov.  Nikolai taught that “the transcendence of the Creator will only be solved when humanity in our united efforts becomes an instrument of universal resuscitation.”

Whatever that means.

But at least Bradford Baker has never met Vladimir Putin.

Caught by Google Earth: Dean LeBaron

You’ll never guess who HAS…  Dean LeBaron, the guy who ended up owning Andy Badolato’s beach house before he had it torn down.

He’s also the guy who won’t talk to me. Maybe he’ll talk to me now.

Stay tuned.

Daniel Hopsicker is an investigative journalist and the author of two books on transnational crime, Welcome to Terrorland and Barry & the Boys

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