TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — As a former top advisor to the president, Steve Bannon is a household name, possibly even more so after his arrest Thursday.
Bannon, along with three other men, is accused of stealing funds donated to help build a wall with private funds along the border between the United States and Mexico.
But who is Andrew Badolato, the Sarasota man accused of fraud and money laundering alongside Bannon, and what role did he pay in the alleged scheme?
The federal indictment describes Badolato as an “entrepreneur” and “venture capitalist.” It does not appear he’s previously been charged with a crime, but Sarasota court records show he did file for bankruptcy in 2006 and again in 2015.
His son, Billy Badolato, spoke to 8 On Your Side Thursday after his father’s court hearing, describing Bannon as a friend and both his dad and Bannon as “good guys.” The younger Badolato would not comment on his dad’s alleged connection with the “We Build the Wall” campaign, but was adamant the elder Badolato had no money, and no assets.
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune previously reported that Bannon used Badolato’s Nokomis home address to register to vote for the 2016 election.
Badolato is not the only tie between the Sunshine State and this shady situation. Brian Kolfage, an Iraqi war veteran also from Florida, launched “We Build the Wall” in late 2018 to crowdfund for a border wall.
The campaign quickly raised $20 million, and that’s where federal investigators say Bannon and Badolato stepped in to create a Florida non-profit to direct the funds.
The indictment reads they took over day-to-day operations and kept pushing the false message that “every penny” went to the wall. Instead, investigators claim hundreds of thousands of dollars were siphoned out for personal use by Kolfage, Bannon, Badolato and Timothy Shea, the fourth defendant.
The Florida Attorney General’s office began receiving complaints about “We Build the Wall” in 2019, including one from the Minnesota Attorney General’s office that suggested donations had been misappropriated.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees non-profit organizations, opened an investigation which was later handed over to the FBI.
A spokesperson for FDACS tells 8 On Your Side the investigation is still active, and “We Build the Wall’s” charity status has since been suspended.
Bannon, Badolato, Kolfage and Shea were all taken into custody Thursday in various jurisdictions.
The case is being prosecuted out of New York, where all four are due in court again at the end of this month. If convicted, they face a maximum of 40 years in prison.
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