September 16, 2014

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Rep. Jim Renacci asks federal judge to quash his subpoena to testify

Jim Renacci

Jim Renacci

U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci has asked a federal judge in Cleveland to stop attorneys for a Northeast Ohio businessman from forcing him to testify at the trial.

Renacci, R-Wadsworth has been subpoenaed to possibly testify in the ongoing trial of telemarketing millionaire Ben Suarez. His attorneys wrote in a motion filed Monday that the congressman’s testimony is not needed.

Suarez, 72, was indicted last year on charges that included conspiracy to commit federal campaign finance laws, obstruction of justice and witness tampering. The charges are related to donations totaling $100,000 each to the 2012 Republican campaigns of Renacci and the unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidacy of Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel.

The indictment said Suarez and a top official for North Canton-based Suarez Corporation Industries asked employees and others, including Suarez’s daughters and sons-in-law, to make maximum donations to the campaigns and were then quickly reimbursed by the company. It is a violation of federal law to make federal political donations in someone else’s name.

Both Republicans returned the donations after learning of an FBI investigation and are not accused of wrongdoing.

Suarez’s attorneys said in their opening statement last week that Suarez did not know he was breaking the law when he had his company reimburse those who had been asked to donate.

Renacci’s attorneys wrote in a motion filed Monday that the congressman’s testimony is not essential to the case and that forcing him to testify would interfere with his governmental responsibilities. The rules of the U.S. House of Representatives oblige Renacci to be available to cast votes when the House is in session, the attorneys wrote.

The court filing also said Renacci has other legislative business he must take care of while in Washington.

Suarez’s attorneys also subpoenaed Renacci’s former chief of staff and campaign manager, James Slepian. The court filing said forcing either of the two men to testify would be “unreasonable or oppressive.”

Renacci spokeswoman Megan Taylor said Tuesday in a statement that the court filing “speaks for itself” and declined to comment further. Slepian could not be reached.

Suarez’s trial is in its second week in U.S. District Court in Cleveland. Suarez Corporation’s former chief financial officer, Michael Giorgio, took the stand late Tuesday to testify for the prosecution. Originally indicted along with Suarez, Giorgio pleaded guilty May 19 in a deal that calls for him to testify against his former boss in exchange for a reduced prison sentence.