When Canton businessman Ben Suarez launched a campaign that would likely help Republican Jim Renacci’s bid for U.S. Senate, Renacci’s team quickly moved to put distance between the congressman and the ex-convict.
Suarez created the Justice Association LLC with the aim of clearing his own name, recovering some $30 million in damages and defeating two Ohio Democrats — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and Ohio attorney general candidate Steve Dettelbach, according to Julius Toth, chief operating officer at Suarez Corporation Industries.
Suarez served 15 months in federal prison for witness tampering in a case overseen by Dettelbach, who was U.S. attorney for the northern district of Ohio.
The Renacci campaign is silent on the Justice Association — campaigns are legally forbidden from coordinating with outside groups — but a campaign spokeswoman called it an “outright lie” for the Brown campaign to suggest that Suarez and Renacci have a long association.
Renacci campaign spokeswoman Leslie Shedd said Suarez was a major employer in Renacci’s district and it’s common for members of Congress to talk with employers and politically active community members. “With that said, Mr. Renacci only met Mr. Suarez twice and has not spoken to him since 2012,” she added.
Toth said on Friday that Suarez “is doing everything in his power to support” Renacci.
Toth said SCI was “severely wounded” by the federal case; SCI staff dropped from 2,000 to just under 100; it filed for bankruptcy reorganization; and it’s very difficult to land deals when the chief executive is labeled a felon.
“This guy is as much of a felon as Mother Teresa,” Toth said of Suarez. He noted that Suarez was an ardent supporter of Renacci before the federal criminal case.
Telephone logs captured by federal investigators in that case show Renacci and Suarez exchanged more than 40 calls between November 2010 and May 2012 — most less than two minutes in duration. “Government Exhibit 802” show the two men communicated in the weeks surrounding Renacci’s campaign receiving $100,000 in donations from Suarez Corporation Industries employees.
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The case centered around $200,000 in campaign contributions in 2011 from SCI employees, relatives and others to state Treasurer Josh Mandel, a Republican who was running against Brown for U.S. Senate in 2012, and Renacci. Renacci and Mandel were not accused of any wrong doing in the case. Suarez had asked Renacci and Mandel for help fighting a consumer practices complaint in California and both men wrote letters advocating for SCI. Later both men returned the campaign contributions.
The company’s chief financial officer, Michael Giorgio, was sentenced to 27 months for campaign finance fraud in the case. Suarez and his company were acquitted in June 2014 of conspiracy charges related to campaign finance and obstruction of justice laws but he was convicted of a witness tampering charge.
It is unclear how the Justice Association, which is not organized as a political action committee, will accomplish its goals. The group posted to its website a lengthy memo offers up to $100,000 for evidence against Brown, Dettelbach, the Obama administration, the Democratic Party and former federal prosecutor Carole Rendon, who was Dettelbach’s first assistant and handled the case against Suarez.
The memo claims that SCI was the victim of an unjust, unlawful political attack that led to the charges against SCI and Suarez and damaged the business. It promises to run a media campaign to bring these claims to light, unseat Brown and defeat Dettelbach.
The memo labels Rendon as “Crazy Carole” and notes: “She is known as being vindictive. She is well know for having major mental problems, in part due to a complex because she is very short in stature.”
The memo says of U.S. District Court Judge Patricia Gaughan, who heard the Suarez case that she is known “as incompetent, cruel, giving excessive sentences…she enjoys human suffering.”
Information from the Associated Press is included in this report.