2 Ohio men indicted on federal campaign finance law violations


CLEVELAND -- The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio today announced a federal indictment against two executives of a North Canton company for allegedly conspiring to violate campaign finance laws in connection with contributions made to the campaigns of Republican state Treasurer Josh Mandel and U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci (R., Wadsworth).

U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach and Stephen D. Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's office, announced the unsealing of the eight-count indictment naming Benjamin Suarez, 72, of Canton, and Michael Giorgio, 61, of Cuyahoga Falls.

The two are charged with one count of conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws, two counts of violation of campaign finance laws, two counts of making false statements, one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, and one count of obstruction of justice. Mr. Suarez also faces an additional count of witness tampering. The indictment is based on allegations that Mr. Suarez, Mr. Giorgio, and others funneled almost $200,000 in conduit contributions to campaigns in the 2012 election, the officials said.

“This office, working with the FBI, has always and will continue to ensure that all who participate in our political process follow the rules and obey the law,” Mr. Dettelbach said. He also praised the investigation of the FBI in the case.

“Benjamin Suarez and Michael Giorgio engaged in behavior that blatantly ignored and directly circumvented clearly established campaign financing laws,” Mr. Anthony said. “The FBI is committed to fully investigate any such intentional violations of these laws, which exist to help ensure fair, honest, and transparent elections.”

Mr. Suarez's company, Suarez Corp., a direct marketing firm, is identified in the indictment only as "Company A."

The FBI began to investigate the contributions after The Blade reported in August, 2011, on suspiciously high contributions coming from 17 employees and some of their spouses associated with Suarez Corp., some of whom had modest salaries.

Both politicians issued statements today disclaiming knowledge of the alleged illegal activity and saying they cooperated fully with the investigation.

James Slepian, chief of staff and spokesman for Mr. Renacci, said the Justice Department has made clear that Mr. Renacci was not the target of an investigation and was not suspected of improper conduct. He said all contributions associated with Mr. Suarez were returned "out of an abundance of caution" more than a year ago.

"What's been made clear is that Mr. Renacci and the other candidates who received contributions from these donors have been absolved of any wrongdoing and this is now strictly a matter between the named individuals and the Justice Department," he said.

Rebecca Wasserstein, a spokesman for Mr. Mandel's re-election campaign, issued a statement that, "Neither Treasurer Mandel nor his campaign committee have been accused of any wrongdoing. Treasurer Mandel has a deep respect for the justice process and his campaign has fully cooperated with the investigation. Out of an abundance of caution, these contributions were returned over a year ago."

According to the indictment, Suarez agreed to raise $100,000 for a U.S. Senate candidate and $100,000 for an Ohio candidate - apparent references to Mr. Mandel and Mr. Renacci.

The document says that Mr. Suarez and Mr. Giorgio recruited individuals who worked for or were otherwise associated with the business to serve as conduit contributors, and were informed that their and their spouses' contributions would be fully reimbursed by the company.

The two then allegedly disguised the payments as salary, and then as profit-sharing.

The indictment details 18 contributions, all made in March, 2011, to a 2012 House campaign. It also details 20 contributions, all but one made in May, 2011, to a 2012 Senate campaign.

The indictment says the fake profit sharing documents were created after stories about the suspicious contributions appeared in The Blade and the Canton Repository. 

Mr. Mandel returned $105,000 in contributions while disclaiming any knowledge of potential wrongdoing.

Contact Tom Troy at tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.