Executives at Ohio Company Indicted in Conspiracy to Violate Campaign Finance Laws, Obstruct Justice
|U.S. Attorney’s Office September 25, 2013|
CLEVELAND, OH—A federal indictment was unsealed today charging two executives at a North Canton, Ohio company with conspiring to violate campaign finance laws, conspiring to obstruct justice, and committing other related crimes, announced Steven M. Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, and Stephen D. Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Cleveland Office.
Benjamin Suarez, 72, of Canton, and Michael Giorgio, 61, of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, are both named in the eight-count indictment. They are charged with one count of conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws, two counts of violation of campaign finance laws, two counts of making false statements, one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, and one count of obstruction of justice. Suarez also faces an additional count of witness tampering. The indictment is based on allegations that Suarez, Giorgio, and others funneled almost $200,000 in conduit contributions to campaigns in the 2012 election.
“This office, working with the FBI, has always and will continue to ensure that all who participate in our political process follow the rules and obey the law,” Dettelbach said. He also praised the investigation by the FBI.
“Benjamin Suarez and Michael Giorgio engaged in behavior that blatantly ignored and directly circumvented clearly established campaign financing laws,” Anthony said. “The FBI is committed to fully investigate any such intentional violations of these laws, which exist to help ensure fair, honest, and transparent elections.”
Suarez is the founder and owner of a company identified in the indictment as Company A. Giorgio was Company A’s chief financial officer.
According to the indictment, Suarez agreed to raise $100,000 for an Ohio candidate for the United States Senate and $100,000 for an Ohio candidate for the United States House. Suarez and Giorgio then recruited individuals who worked for or were otherwise associated with Company A to serve as conduit contributors; that is, to make contributions in their own names and those of their spouses, according to the indictment.
Giorgio, acting at Suarez’s direction, informed potential conduit contributors that the amount of their and their spouse’s contributions would be fully reimbursed by Company A, according to the indictment.
Suarez and Giorgio then directly and indirectly caused Company A to reimburse the conduit contributors, disguising the payments first as salary and then as profit sharing. Suarez and Giorgio caused the payments, including those of spouses, to be “grossed up” to cover payroll and other taxes, so the full amount of the contribution would be reimbursed, according to the indictment.
Suarez and Giorgio disguised and concealed the amount and source of the campaign contributions and identity of Company A as a contributor so that the public would be less likely to know the nature and extent of the support Company A and Suarez were providing the 2012 House campaign and 2012 Senate campaign, according to the indictment.
The indictment details 18 contributions, all made in March 2011, to a 2012 House campaign. It also details 20 contributions, all but one made in May 2011, to a 2012 Senate campaign.
Suarez and Giorgio are also accused of conspiring to obstruct justice from March 2011 through this month. They allegedly did this by failing to turn over documents, records, and evidence subject to federal grand jury subpoenas. They also caused Company A’s controller to create and distribute documents entitled “Advance on Profit Sharing” for all but one Company A employee or contractor who has been reimbursed for campaign contributions. Those documents were intended to create the impression that the reimbursement payments that Company A previously made to the conduit contributors were actually “advances” that all along were meant to be repaid to Company A by the employees and contractors. They did this after newspaper reports detailed the suspicious contribution, according to the indictment.
According to the indictment, Suarez also sought to influence, delay, and prevent witness testimony before a federal grand jury.
This case is the result of an investigation by the FBI-Canton Resident Agency. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Carole S. Rendon and Rebecca Lutzko.
An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The investigation is ongoing.