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CLEVELAND — Businessman Benjamin Suarez on Monday was found not guilty of illegally funneling $200,000 to the federal campaigns of Republicans Jim Renacci and Josh Mandel for the 2012 election.
The monthlong federal trial of Suarez, 72, a North Canton entrepreneur and longtime GOP donor, concluded when the jury cleared him of three counts of federal campaign-finance violations, three counts of causing campaigns to make false statements on their finance reports, and one obstruction charge.
Suarez was found guilty of one felony count of obstruction for tampering with a witness.
U.S. District Attorney Steven Dettelbach said the statutory maximum penalty for obstruction is 20 years, but that a probationary report would ultimately recommend sentences.
Suarez’s attorneys said the likely penalty is about one year in prison and that they plan to appeal the conviction. Sentencing is Oct. 7.
Beginning in 2011, The Blade published articles raising questions about the large political contributions that Suarez employees and their spouses made to Mr. Mandel, who was running for U.S. Senate at the time, and Mr. Renacci (R., Wadsworth).
The Blade’s reporting uncovered that 16 employees of Suarez’s direct-marketing firm had donated the maximum allowable $5,000 to the campaigns of Mr. Mandel or Mr. Renacci.
In six cases, the employees’ spouses also had given the maximum $5,000.
Suarez responded to the initial reports by saying his workers made enough money to easily afford the political contributions.
Many of the donors were executives and managers, but some were copywriters or employees whose job description was listed merely as “marketing.”
Several months later, other media began reporting on the contributions, as well as a potential federal investigation into their propriety.
“There were never any federal election violations and I think the jury saw that pretty quickly,” said Brian Pierce, one of Suarez’s attorneys.
Suarez declined to comment as he left the courtroom.
Suarez Corp. Industries was found not guilty on all eight counts.
Ian Friedman, an attorney for the company, said, “500 people who work at SCI know they can go back to work tomorrow and the lights will be on.”
Suarez’s former chief financial officer, Michael Giorgio, pleaded guilty in the case. He could face three years in prison but hopes to serve less for testifying for the government.