Two business executives are charged with violating campaign finance laws and other federal crimes for allegedly funneling nearly $200,000 through conduits to the 2012 campaigns of Republicans Josh Mandel and Jim Renacci.
A federal indictment unsealed Wednesday charges Benjamin Suarez, 72, of Canton, and Michael Giorgio, 61, of Cuyahoga Falls, with eight criminal counts, including violating campaign finance laws, making false statements and obstructing justice. Suarez also faces an additional count of witness tampering.
Suarez is founder and owner of Suarez Corp., a direct marketing firm, and Giorgio was its chief financial officer. Federal authorities say the two men agreed to raise $100,000 for Mandel’s U.S. Senate campaign and $100,000 for Renacci’s congressional campaign. The two men allegedly recruited employees and associates to serve as conduit contributors and worked out details about how the donations would be reimbursed through extra pay or profit sharing, the indictment said. Giving to a political campaign in the name of another is illegal.
The 18 contributions were made between March and May 2011. The Mandel campaign returned $105,000 in donations once news leaked of the FBI probe in May 2012.
Renacci beat Democrat Betty Sutton to win a second term in the U.S. House. Mandel lost to Democrat Sherrod Brown but says he is running for re-election as state treasurer next year.
Federal officials allege that Suarez and Giorgio conspired to obstruct justice by failing to turn over documents in response to federal grand jury subpoenas.
The (Toledo) Blade reported in August 2011 that 17 Suarez Corporation Industries employees and some of their spouses gave a combined $100,000 to the Mandel campaign and $100,000 to the Renacci campaign. Some had never given to political campaigns before, lived in modest neighborhoods, and held job titles such as copy writer.
It raised questions about whose money was being contributed and whether it was an attempt to steer around the $5,000 contribution limit. Federal campaign finance law prohibits a person from contributing in someone else’s name to evade the limit, or from offering employee bonuses specifically intended to be contributed to a candidate.
In 2006, Republican donor and fundraiser Tom Noe was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison and fined $136,200 for funneling campaign contributions to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.