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Government and Politics

Northeast Ohio business execs plead not guilty, accused of violating "Campaign Finance 101" in steering political contributions
Ben Suarez and Suarez Industries' financial officer pleaded not guilty to allegations of disguising $200,000 in campaign contributions into U.S. Senate and House campaigns

The founder of Suarez Industries is accused of using employees to disguise political contributions and then reimbursing them from corporate accounts.
Courtesy of TIM RUDELL
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Two Northeast Ohio business executives have pleaded not guilty after being charged with channeling nearly $200,000 in corporate money into Senate and congressional campaigns. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze has more the indictments and campaign finance law

LISTEN: Criminal charges on campaign contributions

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Update: 9/26/13 at 7:30 a.m.

A direct-marketing magnate and another executive at his North Canton company have pleaded not guilty to charges accusing them of conspiring to skirt campaign finance laws while funneling nearly $200,000 to two congressional campaigns.

The 72-year-old Ben Suarez of Canton and 61-year-old Michael Giorgio of Cuyahoga Falls were arraigned in federal court on Wednesday in Cleveland.

The FBI questioned employees of Suarez Corporation Industries last year about donations to two Republicans, Congressman Jim Renacci of Wadsworth and state treasurer Josh Mandel, who was running for the U.S. Senate.

Renacci and Mandel each returned at least $100,000 in campaign contributions.

Suarez and Giorgio are charged with violating campaign finance laws. Suarez also is charged with witness tampering.

Original story

The founder of Suarez Corporation Industries, Ben Suarez, is facing charges of witness tampering, conspiring to violate campaign finance laws, obstruction of justice and making false statements. The company’s financial officer, Michael Giorgio, also has been indicted.

According to the federal charges, Suarez agreed to raise $100,000 each for the 2012 Senate campaign of Josh Mandel and congressional campaign of Jim Renacci. He’s then accused of  recruiting employees and others associated with his company to make the contributions in their names and had Giorgio reimburse them through payments disguised as salaries and then as profit-sharing.

Bradley Smith is a law professor at West Virginia University who’s written extensively about campaign finance law. If the charges are true, he says Suarez violated the most basic tenant of the law.

In campaign finance 101, one of the first things you would tell a person if you were just briefing a corporate executive on the law is you cannot make corporate contributions directly to a candidate and you cannot make campaign contributions in the name of another person.”

A statement from Suarez industries  says, “We are confident that our officers will be cleared of any wrongdoing and will stand behind them.”

And a statement from Renacci spokesman James Slepian says no one has accused the congressman of engaging in improper conduct and the money was returned “in an abudance of caution.”

Mandel also returned the money, and a statement from his campaign also uses the phrase “an abundance of caution.” It says he’s cooperated fully with the investigation, which is ongoing.

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