Bombshell: Clinton Foundation Donor’s Flight From Justice Aided by Hillary Allies
Clinton donor smeared a decorated DEA agent and helped crooked Venezuelan friends escape justice
Recent news reports indicate that the FBI is investigating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for granting favors to her family’s foundation donors and for its systematic accounting fraud. In January, the Sunday Times of London cited former Judge Andrew Napolitano, a conservative libertarian and frequent Fox News guest, as saying that the FBI was taking evidence “seriously” and that Hillary “could hear about that soon from the Department of Justice.”
It’s hard to believe that the Obama administration and its hideously politicized Justice Department would ever indict Ms. Clinton, given that President Barack Obama picked her for secretary of state and its clear favoritism toward her in the presidential race. But there is massive evidence that shows financial abuses—including money laundering—at the Clinton Foundation and overwhelming evidence that donors were helped by Ms. Clinton.
To take one of so many examples, there’s the case of Clinton Foundation donor Claudio Osorio—who is now housed at a federal prison serving 12 years for fraud—who in 2010, with Ms. Clinton’s (and Bill Clinton’s) help, won a $10 million loan from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
The loan was granted to an Osorio firm called InnoVida, which was supposed to build houses in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. Instead, Osorio pocketed the money and used it to underwrite his lavish lifestyle and to pay off politicians. For political muscle, Osorio—who also had close ties to Jeb Bush, who sat on the board of a bank he owned—paid a lobbyist and major Hillary fundraiser named Jonathan Mantz.
And that leads me to another Clinton Foundation donor Ms. Clinton helped out who happened to use Mr. Mantz (who now runs Ms. Clinton’s presidential campaign Super PAC) and apparently with the same great effect: Gonzalo Tirado, a crooked Venezuelan financier.
Mr. Tirado was president of and ran Venezuelan operations for the famously corrupt Stanford Bank, which was headquartered in Antigua and was named for its American founder, Allen Stanford. He and Mr. Stanford came to be extremely close and “were like father and son,” one well-placed source told me.
Mr. Stanford’s name may ring a bell as he was sentenced to prison for 110 years for committing an $8 billion Ponzi scheme. In 2006, the Hugo Chavez government was asked to investigate Mr. Tirado by scandal-plagued, pro-Wall Street New York Congressman Gregory W. Meeks, a member of the House Committee on Financial Services and a major recipient of cash and perks from jailbird Allen Stanford. Mr. Tirado was charged with tax evasion and theft, The Hill newspaper reported.
As I’ll detail below—and I uncovered this story with help from the National Legal and Policy Center, a Virginia-based watchdog group—Tirado soon fled for Miami to avoid prosecution and petitioned the State Department, through Mr. Mantz, for political asylum. It’s not clear if he won asylum—and he doesn’t seem to merit it as he had no record of political opposition to the Chavez government—but it is clear that he was allowed to remain in the U.S. and live a life of luxury.
(Mr. Tirado, who did not reply to a request for comment, has kept a low profile as of late. His last reported sighting came in 2014, when he unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide, or at least claimed he intended to kill himself.)
Incredibly, the Obama administration not only failed to help the Chavez government investigate Mr. Tirado, but it also indicted a legendary former DEA agent named Tom Raffanello, a one-time head of the DEA’s Miami office and the agency’s chief of congressional affairs during Bill Clinton’s first term as president.
Mr. Raffanello’s subsequent prosecution, which ended in abysmal failure, almost surely was prompted and abetted by Mr. Tirado, a secret FBI informant. Unsurprisingly, the vindicated Mr. Raffanello had few kind words for Mr. Tirado or Ms. Clinton during a recent interview.
“Tirado believed in buying influence,” Mr. Raffanello said of the crooked financier. “He wouldn’t give away 10 cents that he didn’t think he’d get back a dollar on. That was his entire philosophy.”
As for Ms. Clinton, he said that during her years in the Obama administration the “prevailing wisdom in Miami at the time, among people in high profile civil and criminal defense circles, was that giving money to the Clinton Foundation was very helpful. She was secretary of state and a potential future president. I’m sure that’s the same thinking now.”
(Ms. Clinton’s presidential campaign did not reply to a request for comment.)
Up until 2006, life was cushy for pampered, wealthy, jet-setting Gonzalo Tirado, who was running the Stanford Bank’s Venezuela operations. Events took a turn for the worse when an internal Stanford Bank audit discovered that he had fleeced about $5 million from the company.
Mr. Tirado’s actions did not sit well with Stanford, and the Venezuelan beat a hasty exit from his job. He soon opened a bank of his own and lured in a few local investors. His new enterprise went down the tubes, and the defrauded locals, who were very close to the Chavez government, looked to it for help, leading to an investigation of Mr. Tirado.
At the same time, the Chavez government was investigating Mr. Tirado at the behest of Stanford, through his hand-picked emissary, Congressman Meeks. (See this Wikileaked cable for more on the topic and on Mr. Tirado’s feud with the Venezuelan government.) That led to the filing of criminal charges against Mr. Tirado, as noted above. (The Venezuelan embassy in Washington did not reply to a request for comment.)
Mr. Tirado, apparently a conscienceless paranoid who felt no remorse for his actions, became convinced that Stanford Bank was monitoring his activities and tapping his phone and was the source of all of his troubles. Perhaps sensing he was in deep trouble, he fled Venezuela for Miami.
Mr. Tirado began spending money like a drunken sailor. He purchased at least two luxury estates in the Miami area. He also became a major investor in several companies, including a security firm called Command Consulting Group for which he recruited as a front man W. Ralph Basham, a former senior official with the Department of Homeland Security under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Command Consulting Group, “an international security and intelligence consulting firm that provides advisory services to governments, corporations, and high net worth individuals,” according to its website, and whose top officials include a number of other former senior government terror and security veterans, is currently run out of an office in Washington. (Mr. Basham did not reply to a request for comment.)
As 2009 dawned, life could hardly have been better for the pampered Mr. Tirado. There was just one small problem: He needed to stay in the U.S. to avoid being sent back back to Venezuela, where he was sure to face trial and imprisonment. To stay in the U.S., Mr. Tirado needed the continued indulgence of the U.S. State Department.
Fortunately for Mr. Tirado, the U.S. government had been hostile to Venezuela ever since the South American nation of 31 million moved to the left in 2002, when Chavez was elected to the first of his three terms.
(Note and disclosure: Chavez died in 2013, and the country is now led by his former vice president, Nicolás Maduro. Despite its flaws, the country’s socialist government has made remarkable strides in bettering the lives of Venezuela’s poor majority. In 2004, I met Chavez as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, and I consider him to be the greatest force for democratic change in modern Latin American history with the possible exception of Che Guevera.)
The George W. Bush administration had regularly conspired with the rancid political opposition, which Chavez displaced from power, and had sought to destabilize and overthrow the Chavez government with the help of local Venezuelan surrogates. Incoming President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, were rabid opponents of Chavez’s as well, but Mr. Tirado didn’t want to count on that alone.
Knowing how the corrupt U.S. political system works, he hired an American lobbyist, Jonathan Mantz, to game the asylum process for him while he took it easy and spent his loot in America.
Mantz then worked at BGR, the firm of Republican Haley Barbour, the famously overweight former Mississippi governor and one of the most prominent of all GOP lobby shops. He had previously worked as finance director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and for the laughably corrupt New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine.
Mr. Mantz, who had no real qualifications to be a lobbyist other than his ability to raise money—and who did not reply to a request for comment—had drummed up cash for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. Currently Mr. Mantz chairs Hillary’s 2016 Super PAC, Priorities USA Action. Mr. Tirado paid BGR $350,000.
Now sufficiently motivated, Mantz went to work lobbying Hillary’s State Department to let Tirado stay in Miami. Meanwhile, the crooked Mr. Tirado donated between $5,000 and $10,000 to the Clinton Foundation, according to its website. As is its custom, the foundation does not state when the donation was made and declined to answer questions about the money it took from Mr. Tirado.
Coincidentally or not, Mr. Tirado was one four of Mr. Mantz’ clients who donated to the Clinton Foundation during his brief 16-month career as a lobbyist.
Now let’s discuss the story of former DEA agent Thomas Raffanello, at which point this story becomes even more outrageous.
Mr. Raffanello worked for the DEA for more than three decades. He left in 2004 and went to work as the head of security for the Stanford Bank. “We set up cameras to prevent bank robberies and generally provided security at bank offices and functions,” Mr. Raffanello told me last weekend during the course of several lengthy phone interviews. “I was based in Miami but had offices in Caracas, Quito, Antigua and a few other places.”
Mr. Raffanello said Allen Stanford “couldn’t balance a checkbook” and described him as “a spoiled billionaire.” When I asked him why he went to work for Stanford in the first place he said, “I did due diligence. I called several associates, including the former head of DEA in Miami before me and several former assistant U.S. attorneys who worked for him. No one ever gave me a bad word; they said he was eccentric but a straight shooter. Madeleine Albright worked for him, and the former president of Switzerland was one of his board members.”
Stanford Bank collapsed and was put into receivership in 2010, at which point Mr. Raffanello left the company. But well before then Mr. Tirado—who, a source told me, had become an FBI informant—had become convinced that Mr. Raffanello was the source for all of his problems with the Chavez government and its investigation into him. Hence, he began a smear campaign against Mr. Raffanello in Venezuela and the United States.
As I mentioned above, it was Congressman Meeks—who currently supports Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and who took in more money from Stanford than any single member of Congress other than Charles Rangel and Pete Sessions of Texas—who prompted the Chavez government to look into Mr. Tirado.
But the paranoid Mr. Tirado, certain Mr. Raffanello was to blame, paid Venezuelan writers to place stories saying Mr. Raffanello worked for the CIA, Mr. Raffanello told me. That led to the Chavez government questioning Mr. Raffanello for alleged corruption involving the Stanford bank, though it determined the allegations were groundless and never charged him.
“Venezuela is like Casablanca,” Mr. Raffanello said. “If you tell a story twice it becomes the truth. It became impossible for me to go to Venezuela because I feared I’d get picked up by law enforcement.”
“I thought I was going to get Shanghaied, but you can’t make something out of nothing.” — Thomas Raffanello.
Meanwhile, Mr. Raffanello said, Mr. Tirado told the FBI and the Justice Department that he was trying to arrange Mr. Tirado’s kidnapping and was spying on him. “The guy knows how to play the game, and he played it at a high level because he had plenty of money,” Mr. Raffanello said.
About a year after Mr. Raffanello left Stanford Bank, he was indicted by the Obama Justice Department for allegedly shredding Stanford Bank documents. The case went to trial in Miami in 2010. On February 10 of that year, as the jury was deliberating, Judge Richard Goldberg interrupted its deliberations and unilaterally acquitted Raffanello (and another defendant), saying the evidence against him was “substantially lacking.”
It is highly unusual for a person to escape conviction after being indicted by a federal grand jury, let alone for the government to be humiliated in court as it was in the Raffanello case. Stunned federal prosecutors begged the judge to at least allow the jury to render a verdict because the acquittal would prevent them from appealing a verdict.
The judge dismissed their plea, and Mr. Raffanello’s ordeal was over. “I thought I was going to get Shanghaied, but you can’t make something out of nothing,” he said.
To sum up here, a corrupt Venezuelan banker hired a lobbyist close to Hillary Clinton, made a donation to her family’s foundation and has been allowed to live in the United States without fear of prosecution in his homeland. At a time that Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, the Obama Administration staged what can only be described as a political prosecution of an honest man and long-time government employee.
Mr. Raffanello has concluded this about Hillary Clinton’s campaign: “I learned a lot about her and her family when I was in the government, and how they are put together,” he said. “She is a person who will say and do anything in order to get elected president. I don’t think she’s going to win, but there’s nothing she won’t do while trying.”