July 23, 2016

Partly cloudy

Renacci contributors indicted for campaign finance violations

Two executives of a Stark County direct marketing company who made campaign donations to U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth, and former Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Josh Mandel have been indicted by a federal grand jury on eight counts of conspiring to violate campaign finance laws, conspiring to obstruct justice and committing other related crimes.

The indictment was announced in a news release Wednesday from Steven M. Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, and Stephen D. Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Cleveland Office.

Jim Renacci

Josh Mandel

Named in the indictment are Benjamin Suarez, 72, of Canton, and Michael Giorgio, 61, of Cuyahoga Falls — both are executives at the Jackson Township-based Suarez Corporation.

The indictment accuses Suarez, Giorgio and others of funneling nearly $200,000 in contributions to Renacci’s and Mandel’s campaigns during the 2012 election cycle.

Suarez and Giorgio 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.

Suarez also faces an additional count of witness tampering.

Suarez’s attorney, Roger Synenberg, said his client denies all charges and will vigorously defend against them in court.

“We are going to do everything we can to make sure that his good reputation and name remains untainted,” Synenberg said.

Giorgio’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the indictment, which only refers to Mandel as “a senate candidate” and Renacci as “a house candidate,” Suarez agreed to raise $100,000 for a Renacci and $100,000 for Mandel. He then worked with his company’s financial officer, Giorgio on recruiting employees to make the payments to the campaign.

The employees were reimbursed in their paychecks at a rate higher than their campaign contribution to cover payroll and other taxes so their full contribution would be fully covered, the indictment said.

After the FBI investigation into the campaign donations was made public by the Toledo Blade in May 2012, Mandel immediately returned the contributions to Suarez employees.

But Renacci told the Toledo Blade his campaign was taking a wait-and-see approach when they ran a story on the Federal investigation.

Following pressure from Betty Sutton, his Democratic opponent in the race for the 16th House District, Renacci also returned the donations to Suarez employees in July.

On Wednesday, Renacci spokesperson James Slepian issued a statement regarding the indictments against Suarez and Giorgio.

“As the Justice Department made clear last year, neither Congressman Renacci nor his campaign have ever been the target of this investigation and have not engaged in any improper conduct,” he said in an email. “Out of an abundance of caution, all contributions associated with these donors were refunded over 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.”

The indictment details 18 contributions made in March 2011 to Renacci’s campaign. A search of Federal Election Commission records shows Renacci returned a total of $101,914 in contributions to 25 people on July 20, 2012.

The indictment also shows 20 contributions made in May and June of 2011 to Mandel’s campaign. Mandel refunded 21 donations on May 22, 2012, a day after the Blade story ran outlining the investigation into the contributions according to the Federal Election Commission.

According to the Blade article from May 2012, many Suarez company employees and their spouses gave the maximum $5,000 in contributions to Renacci and Mandel, even though they had never made political donations before and lived in modest homes.

Suarez and Giorgio are also accused of conspiring to obstruct justice from March of 2011 through September 2013. The indictment said they both failed to turn over documents, records and evidence subject to federal grand jury subpoenas.

It also said that both men attempted to fake documents making payments to employees appear as “profit sharing” rather than payroll payments in return for campaign contributions.

The indictment also said the men “sought to influence, delay and prevent witness testimony before a federal grand jury.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.