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Trump’s pardons full of Florida scammers, rappers and well-connected

Stephen Bannon, two rappers and convicted fraudsters to benefit from the presidential power.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday in Washington. Trump was en route to his Mar-a-Lago Florida Resort.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday in Washington. Trump was en route to his Mar-a-Lago Florida Resort. [ ALEX BRANDON | AP ]
Published Jan. 20
Updated Jan. 20

An eye doctor convicted in the biggest Medicare fraud in the nation’s history. A Miami developer charged in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal. And five executives accused of defrauding the state of Florida.

That’s a sampling of the people with Florida ties who received one of President Donald Trump’s last-minute pardons just before he left the White House.

More than 100 individuals received a pardon or commutation of their sentence early Wednesday morning. Though the final list did not include Trump or his family, it included a group of well-connected convicted felons, wealthy fraudsters and two celebrity rappers, as well as dozens of individuals sentenced to long sentences for drug crimes. Elliot Broidy, a past fundraiser for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republicans, received a full pardon.

Trump also came to the rescue of Stephen Bannon, a former White House adviser and the architect of his successful 2016 campaign for president. Bannon and two Florida men were charged last year with using donations to a nonprofit called “Build the Wall” on personal expenses despite promises they wouldn’t.

Still, Bannon’s two associates — Brian Kolfage, of the Panhandle’s Miramar Beach, and Andrew M. Badolato, a Sarasota-area venture capitalist long tied to Bannon — did not receive a pardon from Trump. According to the charges, the three men and another partner skimmed $1 million from the nonprofit in the made-in-Florida scandal. They face up to 40 years in prison.

Here are the other people connected to the Sunshine State who received a pardon or commutation from Trump.

Todd Farha, Thaddeus Bereday, William Kale, Paul Behrens, Peter Clay

Wellcare's former chief executive officer Todd S. Farha.
Wellcare's former chief executive officer Todd S. Farha.

Trump granted pardons to the five former executives of WellCare Health Plans who were convicted in a case involving allegations of defrauding Florida’s Medicaid program.

FBI agents raided WellCare’s Tampa headquarters in 2007 as part of an investigation that included using an undercover informant. At least in part, the case involved allegations that WellCare deceived the state about how much money the company spent on behavioral-health services for Medicaid beneficiaries and did not refund money as required.

Similarly, a 2017 U.S. Department of Justice news release about the sentencing of Bereday described the case as a “$35 million health care fraud scheme.” It also said that WellCare, as part of an agreement with prosecutors, was required to pay $40 million in restitution and forfeit another $40 million to the federal government and cooperate in the criminal investigation.

In 2007, the then-St. Petersburg Times reported: “WellCare and its affiliates have given the Republican Party of Florida some $105,000 in contributions this year, according to state election records. They’ve also given the Florida Democratic Party $5,000 this year. In 2006, WellCare’s PAC gave $66,000 to federal candidates, all Republicans.” The company’s CEO, Farha, was also a top fundraiser for then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

Fred “Dave” Clark

Cay Clubs Resorts & Marinas CEO Dave Clark shown in 2006 at the groundbreaking of Grand  Venezia resort at 18425 U.S. Highway 19 N in Clearwater that was a Ponzi scheme.
Cay Clubs Resorts & Marinas CEO Dave Clark shown in 2006 at the groundbreaking of Grand Venezia resort at 18425 U.S. Highway 19 N in Clearwater that was a Ponzi scheme. [ HANDOUT | Times | 2016 ]

A federal judge in 2016 sentenced Fred Davis Clark Jr. to 40 years in prison for his role as CEO in Cay Clubs Resorts and Marina, which promised to turn dilapidated properties in Florida, Las Vegas and the Caribbean into luxury resorts. Beginning in 2004, Clark raised more than $300 million from 1,400 investors who were promised steady rental income and an upfront leaseback payment of 20 percent of the sales price of the units.

The operation was really a Ponzi scheme that used sales proceeds from new investors to pay overdue obligations to earlier participants, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Investors lost retirements and life savings. But prosecutors proved Clark, 62, used funds from his scheme to pay for a lavish lifestyle, including extracting $22 million, and buying a gold mine and a rum distillery for his personal benefit.

Elliot Broidy

Elliott Broidy poses for a photo at an event in New York in 2008.
Elliott Broidy poses for a photo at an event in New York in 2008. [ DAVID KARP | AP ]

Broidy served on the national finance leadership team for DeSantis’ successful 2018 campaign and was the former deputy finance chairman for the Republican National Committee. But he resigned his position after a report that he paid off a former Playboy model. The model said Broidy had impregnated her while he was married and forced her to get an abortion. Michael Cohen, the former personal attorney of Trump, represented Broidy, according to the report.

But that’s not what landed in Broidy in legal hot water. Broidy plead guilty to lobbying on behalf of a foreign government to influence the Justice Department without disclosing a lucrative relationship with Chinese and Malaysian interests.

Robert “Bob” Zangrillo

In this March 27, 2019, file photo, Robert Zangrillo departs federal court in Boston after a hearing in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. The Miami developer and investor, one of many charged with paying bribes to get their children into elite universities, was pardoned early Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, by President Donald Trump.
In this March 27, 2019, file photo, Robert Zangrillo departs federal court in Boston after a hearing in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. The Miami developer and investor, one of many charged with paying bribes to get their children into elite universities, was pardoned early Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, by President Donald Trump. [ CRAIG F. WALKER | AP ]

Zangrillo, a prominent Miami developer and investor, was among a slew of wealthy parents charged with paying hefty bribes to get their children into elite universities in a scandal known as “Varsity Blues.” Zangrillo was arrested in March 2019 in a college admissions bribery scheme that ensnared TV stars, business people and athletic coaches across the U.S.Federal prosecutors in Boston accused him of paying $250,000 to get his daughter into the University of Southern California as a transfer in 2018.

Abel Holtz

The former Miami banker plead guilty to lying to a grand jury in 1994 in a bribery case related to famously corrupt Miami Beach Mayor Alex Daoud. Holtz reportedly paid Daoud between $1,000 and $1,500 a month for services he never provided. Holtz was also accused of sexual harassing an employee. Holtz’s pardon was supported by U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a South Florida Republican, according to a White House press release. In justifying Holtz’s pardon, the White House said the former Cuban exile “ devoted extensive time and resources to supporting charitable causes in South Florida, including substantial donations to the City of Miami Beach.”

Salomon Melgen

Dr. Salomon Melgen arrives at the federal courthouse in West Palm Beach in 2017.
Dr. Salomon Melgen arrives at the federal courthouse in West Palm Beach in 2017.

Melgen was serving a 17-year sentence for health care fraud in what federal prosecutors described as the biggest Medicare fraud case in U.S. history. Melgen, a retinologist, ran eye clinics along Florida’s east coast, that falsely diagnosed hundreds of seniors in a scheme that netted the South Florida doctor $75 million, according to prosecutors and the Palm Beach Post. Trump commuted the sentence with the support of Diaz-Balart.

Sholam Weiss

Weiss and four co-conspirators were convicted in 2005 guilty of dozens of charges including racketeering, wire fraud, money laundering and interstate transportation of stolen property in a scheme that led to the collapse of Orlando-based National Heritage Life Insurance. Many of the company’s 25,000 customers lost their life savings in what was, at the time, the nation’s largest insurance company failure caused by fraud. Trump commuted Weiss’ sentence.

Kyle Kimoto

Kimoto and his partner Peter Porcelli of Belleair Beach were convicted in a telemarketing scheme that targeted people credit and mortgage troubles. They set up call centers in Utah, Florida, India and the Caribbean. According to a 2010 story in the then-St. Petersburg Times, “Hundreds of thousands of people bought the sales pitch, and tens of millions of dollars flowed into Kimoto’s St. George company, Assail, and Porcelli’s Bay Area Business Council, in Largo.”

In 2003, federal regulators won a $106 million judgment against Kimoto’s company, which he dodged through “a complex money-laundering scheme” involving friends, business associates and family members, according to the receiver appointed to collect. He was later sentenced to 29 years in prison and has served 12 years. Trump commuted the remainder of the sentence.

Todd Boulanger

Boulanger plead guilty to bribery in the federal corruption investigation that took down well-connected lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a network of lobbyists and congressional aides and White House officials. Before joining Abramoff’s firm, Boulanger worked on George Bush’s Florida recount team after the 2000 election.

Michael Liberty

Liberty pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions to former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012. Liberty, a developer once called “Donald Trump with a Maine accent,” resided in Windermere when he was convicted. More recently, Liberty was accused of deceiving investors and taking $48 million to support a “lavish lifestyle,” according to a 2018 U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission press release.

Michael Ashley

Lend America, led by Ashley, its chief business strategist, was a nationwide vendor of mortgages fueled by television infomercials. Amid the depths of the housing crisis in 2009, Lend America was accused of abusing federal loan programs. Ashley plead guilty to bank fraud as the company imploded, leaving victims across the country, including in Florida.

Craig Cesal

Cesal is among several dozen individuals who Trump commuted for sentences they received related to non-violent drug offenses. In Cesal’s case, the Illinoisan operated a truck repair business. Among his clients was a Lakeland company later accused of smuggling marijuana, according to an interview he once gave, and Cesal received a life sentence. One of his two children died while Cesal was imprisoned.

Eliyahu Weinstein

Weinstein was already serving 22 years in prison for a real estate Ponzi scheme when the FBI caught him defrauding investors in connection to real estate deals, including in Florida. Weinstein and his conspirators persuaded victims to invest in an apartment complex called “Belle Glade Gardens.” The money, $2.5 million, was used to pay people who had invested in a Facebook investment scheme, according to federal authorities.

Bill K. Kapri, also known as “Kodak Black”

Kodak Black performs on stage during radio station WILD 94.1's annual spring Wild Splash concert in Coachman Park in Clearwater on March 2, 2019.
Kodak Black performs on stage during radio station WILD 94.1's annual spring Wild Splash concert in Coachman Park in Clearwater on March 2, 2019. [ LUIS SANTANA | Tampa Bay Times ]

The South Florida rapper known as “Kodak Black” plead guilty in Nov. 19 to making false statements on background check paperwork when attempting to purchase two firearms, according to the U.S. Justice Department. Both weapons were later found at crime scenes, though Kapri was not charged in the shooting. He was sentenced to 46 months in prison, where he released his third album, Bill Israel. Trump commuted the remainder of his sentence.

Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. also known as Lil Wayne

In this June 10, 2008 file photo, rapper Lil' Wayne makes an appearance on MTV's "Total Request Live" show at MTV Studios in Times Square in New York.
In this June 10, 2008 file photo, rapper Lil' Wayne makes an appearance on MTV's "Total Request Live" show at MTV Studios in Times Square in New York. [ PETER KRAMER | AP ]

Just last month, the rapper pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a formerly convicted felon. The charge was related to a 2019 trip to Miami, during which he arrived via chartered plan with a bag carrying a gold-plated handgun, marijuana and cocaine, according to the Miami Herald. Trump granted Lil Wayne a full pardon because he “has exhibited this generosity through commitment to a variety of charities, including donations to research hospitals and a host of foodbanks.”

Times staff writers Tracey McManus, Zachary T. Sampson, the Associated Press and the News Service of Florida contributed to this report.