The founder of a Maine charity that provided holiday gifts to the children of military families was under investigation for fraud when he committed suicide last month.

The investigation focused on whether Marcel “Marc” Badeau, chairman of the Gorham-based nonprofit Operation Tribute, siphoned off hundreds of thousands of dollars that he told donors would be spent on gifts for children.

Badeau and his wife, Margherita Badeau, are identified in court records unsealed Wednesday as the targets of an investigation by multiple federal agencies that started in July.

The accusations depicting Marcel Badeau as an ex-con scam artist stand in stark contrast to his public image as a selfless man, tirelessly devoting his time to support the children of military service men and women in New England, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Wednesday’s revelation surprised many people who supported Badeau, including Gov. Paul LePage and first lady Ann LePage, who both issued statements after his death Feb. 27.

“I have been ever impressed by Operation Tribute and especially Marc’s passion to recognize the sacrifices made by children in particular. His passing is a terrible loss for the veterans community and all of Maine,” LePage said in a written statement March 2.

Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s spokeswoman, said Wednesday afternoon that neither the governor nor Ann LePage knew the cause of Badeau’s death when they issued their statements, and were unaware of the federal investigation.

The records unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland included paperwork filed by the FBI seeking a search warrant Dec. 18 for the Badeaus’ home at 41 Dewayns Way in Gorham, and a forfeiture action filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to seize more than $315,000 in several bank accounts controlled by the Badeaus.

PERSONAL SPENDING, PRIOR CONVICTION

The court filings indicate the Badeaus used donated money for personal needs, including more than $230,000 in cash, $138,000 in mortgage payments, more than $25,000 for personal cars, nearly $24,000 for one of their children’s college tuition, and more than $7,000 at New Hampshire state liquor stores.

An affidavit filed by FBI Agent Richard Pires Jr. accuses the Badeaus of using a side company, Top Shelf Collectibles, as the purchasing agent awarded a contract by Operation Tribute to acquire toys, books and other gifts for children. Of the $1.14 million raised by Operation Tribute from 2009 to July 2014, the charitable organization paid about 93 percent to Top Shelf Collectibles, the affidavit says.

In total, the Badeaus used $740,325 of that money to pay credit card bills, which included purchases of toys and gifts for the charity alongside personal expenses, according to the affidavit.

Marcel Badeau was targeted in a similar FBI investigation in Massachusetts in 1998, when he was the chief financial officer of Cambridge Trust Co. and diverted about $670,000 of the company’s money to himself through false bank entries. Badeau was convicted in that case and sentenced in 1999 to serve 18 months in federal prison, long before he started Operation Tribute, Pires said in the affidavit.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, would not say whether Margherita Badeau will be criminally prosecuted.

Clark filed a court motion Jan. 28, after federal agents searched the Badeaus’ home, to keep court records temporarily impounded from public view.

“Marcel and Margherita have been served with target counsel and the parties have commenced plea negotiations,” Clark wrote in that Jan. 28 filing.

Margherita Badeau’s attorney, Peter DeTroy, declined to comment on whether his client could face criminal charges.

“It’s kind of a sensitive juncture,” he said Wednesday evening.

Marcel Badeau’s attorney, G. Toby Dilworth, declined to comment when reached by phone.

Richard Berne, the attorney who represents Operation Tribute and its board members, said he was made aware of the federal investigation of the Badeaus before the court documents were unsealed. Berne said he had warned the board that an investigation was underway, but had not disclosed detailed information.

“There was never any question about whether the members of the board or the charity itself had any involvement in the allegations,” Berne said. “From the very beginning, the board and charity were viewed as victims of this unfortunate situation.”

Berne said several members of the board, which includes retired military members and volunteers, contacted him Wednesday after they were contacted by the Portland Press Herald seeking comment. He said the board members should remain proud of the work they did and the important mission of the charity.

“The future is really under consideration, undetermined at this point,” Berne said.

RECOGNITION, FOLLOWED BY SUSPICION

In honor of the charitable group’s recognition of the sacrifices made by military families, LePage declared December 2012 Operation Tribute Month. The organization was also named Maine’s Outstanding Non-profit in 2011.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin was similarly impressed by the group’s work, proclaiming December 2013 Operation Tribute Month in the Green Mountain State.

Operation Tribute’s federal form 990 for 2012, the most recent year available, lists Marc Badeau as the organization’s founder and chairman. The organization listed revenues of $476,771 for that year, and expenses of $463,740 for the “acquisition and distribution of gifts to the children of military families during the holidays.” None of the officers or board members received a salary, according to the form.

An undercover FBI agent contacted Marcel Badeau in the first week of December 2014, claiming to represent a potential donor who wanted to make a sizable contribution to Operation Tribute, Pires said in his affidavit.

During a meeting Dec. 4, the Badeaus told the undercover agent that 98 percent of all funds they collected went toward buying gifts for children. They also told the agent that the nonprofit sent 34,000 gift packages in 2013, and expected to deliver 36,000 in 2014, for annual average spending of $450,000 on gifts, court records state.

Two weeks later, federal agents searched their house.