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Courts and Crime

Suarez campaign contribution trial underway
Defense team accuses prosecution's star witness of embezzling from Suarez's company

Kevin Niedermier
Ben Suarez -- with his wife Nancy -- when they were honored by the University of Akron for direct marketing.
Courtesy of University of Akron
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In The Region:

North Canton businessman Ben Suarez is accusing the star witness in the prosecution’s case against him of embezzling $1 million from his company.

Until two weeks ago, that witness, Michael Giorgio was Suarez’s CFO and co-defendant, with both of them accused of funneling more than $200,000 to the campaigns of Congressman Jim Renacci and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel. The trial at Cleveland’s federal courthouse will be in recess tomorrow so Suarez can attend his sister’s funeral and opening statements are expected to begin on Wednesday. Meanwhile, WKSU’s Kevin Niedermier reports on the trial's possible political impact.

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Prosecutors say Suarez used his employees as “straw donors” to make the contributions in their names to Mandel and Renacci, and be reimbursed by the company. Both politician have returned the money. Mandel and Renacci are on the witness list, but it’s not certain if they’ll be called to testify. The trial is expected to last about a month.  Hiram College political science professor Jason Johnson says whether or not Suarez is found guilty or acquitted, the trial could have a negative impact on Republicans in Ohio’s fall election, especially Mandel. 

“Not a lot of people are necessarily in favor of his long term political aspirations. Even a lot of the money he had when he ran against (Sen.) Sherrod Brown was a lot of outside money; there wasn’t a groundswell of support as much as it was resistance to Sherrod Brown. So, he’s not going to have a lot of people running to his aid in this particular case, even though neither he nor Rennaci are considered to be primary suspects in ... the criminal activity.”

Suarez has rejected a plea deal and could be sentenced to more than 12 years if convicted, and fined nearly $ one million. His direct marketing company, Suarez Corporation Industries, is also charged in the case, and could be fined up to $20 million. 

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