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Courts and Crime

Was Suarez savvy or suckered when it came to Mandel, Renacci donations?
Prosecutors say a paper trail leads to Suarez's guilt, but the defense claims the businessman's former CFO made the illegal decisions

Kevin Niedermier
The federal courthouse in Cleveland where Canton businessman Ben Suarez is defending himself and his company against illegal campaign contribution charges.
Courtesy of Kevin Niedermier
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In The Region:

Defense attorneys for Canton businessman Ben Suarez say he never willfully violated campaign finance laws when he asked employees to contribute to Congressman Jim Renacci and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel. They say it was all the fault of Suarez's CFO.

But prosecutors say a paper trail will show Suarez ordered his CFO to round up employees to act as “straw donors” and be re-reimbursed by the direct marketing company.

WKSU’s Kevin Niedermier has more on the opening statements made before a very large crowd in  federal courtroom in Cleveland.

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The defense described Suarez as a self-made man whose company is a good corporate citizen and employer in Stark County.

His attorneys don’t deny he made donations to Renacci and Mandel and asked them for help fighting a deceptive advertising lawsuit in California. They also acknowledge Suarez directed his former CFO Michael Giorgio to ask employees to donate, and to offer advances on profit sharing if they couldn’t afford the $5,000 being asked for.

But the defense says only Giorgio used the term “reimbursement.” Giorgio recently pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors guaranteeing less prison time than he was facing. And they pointed to a clause in the plea deal saying he cannot be charged with new violations in the case.

The defense claims Giorgio accepted the deal after learning Suarez was building an embezzlment case against him. For that, the defense told jurors, his testimony is unreliable. Former law professor J. Dean Carro says that clause only protects Giorgio from further federal prosecution.

“That doesn’t prevent a civil action. So, for example, if the Suarez company wanted to bring a civil action against Mr. Giorgio it certainly could.”

Suarez’s defense team says Giorgio stole about $1 million from the company.

Prosecutors call Suarez a sophisticated political operator who knew the donation scheme was illegal, and says they’ll prove he tried to cover it up by altering documents, withholding evidence and tampering with witnesses.




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