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The Suburbanite
  • FBI probes Suarez employees' campaign contributions

  • The FBI said Monday it’s investigating campaign contributions made by employees of the Jackson Township-based Suarez Corp. Industries.

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  • The FBI said Monday it’s investigating campaign contributions made by employees of the Jackson Township-based Suarez Corp. Industries.
    The company confirmed that FBI agents have questioned its employees about large contributions to the campaigns of U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth, and Republican U.S. Senate candidate and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel.
    “We have made inquiries and have spoken to several Suarez Corp. employees, but we’re not prepared to make a statement about the investigation at this point. That’s too premature,” said Andrew Hayden, the supervisory resident agent of the Canton FBI office. “These things take some time when you’re talking about campaign finances, so we want to proceed cautiously.”
    James Slepian, Renacci’s chief of staff, confirmed that the U.S. Attorney’s office, sometime around January or February, asked Renacci’s campaign treasurer for records of contributions and when they were made from Suarez employees. He said someone associated with the federal investigation told Renacci months ago he was not the subject of the probe and that investigators have not questioned the congressman or anyone who works for him, besides the treasurer.
    “To our knowledge, no contribution we received was donated improperly,” Slepian said, who noted that it’s typical for several employees at a company to contribute to a campaign. “If we find out if any donations were made improperly they’ll be returned.”
    Mandel’s campaign spokesman, Travis Considine, issued a statement saying the campaign is “fully cooperating” with the investigation and that “neither the campaign nor anyone associated with it is a subject of the investigation.”
    According to media reports, Considine said all $100,000 in contributions from Suarez employees has been transferred to a separate account. The campaign could give the money back or give it to a charity.
    The U.S. Attorney’s office in Cleveland declined to comment.
    LARGE CONTRIBUTIONS
    In August, The (Toledo) Blade, which reviewed Renacci and Mandel’s campaign finance reports, reported that 16 Suarez employees and six of their spouses gave the maximum allowed, $5,000 each, to Renacci or Mandel. Many of them said they had nonexecutive job titles. All the employees, including Suarez and his wife, gave $100,000 to Mandel’s campaign and $100,250 to Renacci’s campaign, The Blade reported, in addition to $40,000 more to political action committees associated with the candidates.
    Half of the employees had homes valued between $66,000 to $183,000, according to The Blade. It’s illegal for an employer to reimburse an employee for campaign contributions.
    Late Friday, The New Republic magazine reported that the FBI was investigating the contributions.
    SUAREZ’S RESPONSE
    The Suarez Corp.’s president, Benjamin Suarez, whose company sells home appliances, exercise equipment, air purifiers and nutritional supplements, said the contributions were legal and the investigation is politically motivated. He said that, at the request of the campaigns of Renacci and Mandel, he asked his executives if they would be interested in donating.
    Page 2 of 2 - “They were absolutely not coerced and absolutely not reimbursed,” he said. “This is an effort to suppress contributions to Republican candidates.”
    Suarez said his company has cooperated with the FBI since agents started asking it for records after the publication of The Blade’s article. Suarez issued a sworn statement from an accountant, which said the employees each averaged more than $1 million in income in 2008 and about $486,000 in income in 2010.
    “What does it matter what their home value is when they’re making that amount of money?” he asked.
    The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a statement that said: “Congressman Renacci’s fundraising from his largest donor is now the center of an FBI investigation, and he owes it to Ohioans to come clean and explain how he scored more than a $100,000 in suspect donations.”
    The campaign of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, said the contributions show Mandel can’t be trusted. It said in a statement that “it comes as no surprise that his campaign is now part of an investigation over what is charitably called one hundred thousand dollars in questionable contributions from individuals who do not appear to have the means to make contributions of this size.”