The government’s key witness in the federal trial of Stark County businessman Benjamin Suarez is the subject of a pending legal battle over her testimony, with the trial only days away.
Suarez, along with his global marketing firm, Suarez Corp. Industries (SCI), and his co-defendant, SCI Chief Executive Michael Giorgio, are scheduled to go to trial June 2 on charges of illegal campaign contributions leading up to the 2012 election.
It is expected that the trial will go forward as planned before Judge Patricia A. Gaughan in U.S. District Court in Cleveland.
However, lawyers for the 72-year-old Suarez have challenged a court order allowing prosecutors to take a home video deposition of SCI’s former comptroller, Barbara Housos of Canton, as the only testimony that both sides could use in the trial.
According to records filed in federal court, Housos has a serious medical condition and there is a “likelihood,” Gaughan’s order says, that she will be unavailable for trial.
If the judge’s order stands, it would mean Suarez’s lawyers would be unable to cross-examine Housos during the trial itself.
“She possesses material and exculpatory information that no other witness has,” the defense stated (with emphasis) in court records.
Suarez’s defense team — lawyers from Akron, Cleveland, Chicago and Washington, D.C. — jointly filed a writ of mandamus Tuesday in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals for an immediate stay of Gaughan’s order.
A final pretrial is scheduled for 10 a.m. this morning, and the home video deposition, unless the 6th Circuit stops it, is scheduled to begin Monday.
Brian M. Pierce, lead Ohio lawyer for Suarez, declined to comment on the video deposition and said he has advised Suarez not to comment as well.
Court records show the importance of Housos’s testimony as “the government’s star witness.”
“The witness is the most important one in this case,” Pierce wrote in the 6th Circuit action. “The government has stated that her testimony bears on nearly all of the 10 felony counts [in the indictment] against Mr. Suarez, SCI and [his] co-defendant.”
It went on to say that Housos’s lawyer has stated that some of the information she has is potentially exonerating and, thus, vital to the defense.
Gaughan’s order placing a limit on the time of the deposition, from 5 to 7½ hours for the entire week, is another issue. Limiting the time in such a way means much of the information she has would not be revealed, the defense contends.
The testimony of Housos in court, the defense argues, could take as much as 15 hours “and likely longer,” because of the inside knowledge she has on many documents essential to proving the allegations in the charges pertaining to obstruction of justice and obstruction of an official investigation.
Suarez has a constitutional right “to cross-examine the witness live and in front of the jury,” the 6th Circuit action states.
Limiting testimony also is harmful to Suarez because it conceivably would restrict potentially exonerating evidence he could use on appeal if he is convicted, the defense contends.
Federal prosecutors accuse Suarez and Giorgio of improperly funneling about $200,000 to the 2012 election campaigns of U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, who lost his bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.
Neither Renacci nor Mandel were accused of any wrongdoing.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.