Stark County businessman Benjamin Suarez has hired a heavyweight defense team to represent him following Wednesday’s federal indictment charging him with funneling illegal campaign contributions to U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel.
Suarez, the wealthy owner and chief executive of a worldwide marketing firm, has retained one of Cleveland’s top criminal lawyers, Roger M. Synenberg, and two attorneys from Miami who have built international reputations defending cases involving federal and white-collar crimes.
Among the three-man team is Frank A. Rubino, a former Secret Service agent who guarded then-President Richard Nixon at his compound in Key Biscayne, Fla., and who later represented Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega as lead counsel in a U.S. Supreme Court case.
Synenberg, who won a Cuayhoga County murder case late last month in defense of retired Cleveland policeman “Disco” Dale Edwards, was with Suarez on Wednesday morning in U.S. District Court in Akron when he and one of his top associates, Michael Giorgio of Cuyahoga Falls, pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.
The other lawyer representing Suarez is Nathan P. Diamond, a criminal lawyer for 40-plus years who is well-versed in cases involving federal prosecutions.
Suarez, 72, who is president and chief executive of Suarez Corp. Industries, and Giorgio, 61, his chief financial officer, were charged jointly in a multi-count indictment accusing them of conspiracy to violate federal campaign finance laws, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.
The indictment charges the two men with an elaborate conspiracy to funnel about $200,000 in illegal contributions to the Renacci and Mandel campaigns in the 2012 general election.
According to federal prosecutors and the FBI, Suarez and Giorgio recruited employees and others from Suarez’s firm to act as “conduits” of the contributions, writing checks using their own names and those of their spouses with an understanding the company would reimburse them fully.
Synenberg, who commented on the indictment only briefly Thursday afternoon in an Akron Beacon Journal interview, said it was not a surprise because news of the federal probe arose about two years ago.
“We vehemently deny the charges ... and we look forward to aggressively defending this case in court,” Synenberg said.
He declined further comment, saying it would be inappropriate with the case in its initial stages.
Details in the indictment say Suarez agreed to raise $100,000 for an “Ohio candidate” for the U.S. Senate, long known to be Mandel, along with another $100,000 for an “Ohio candidate” for the U.S. House, long known to be Renacci.
In May 2012, Mandel’s office announced that he was returning $105,000 in campaign donations in connection with the federal investigation of Suarez.
Two months later, in the midst of what would be a successful race against U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, Renacci announced he was returning $100,000 in campaign donations that were the subject of the federal probe.
Neither Republican has been implicated or accused of any wrongdoing in the investigation.
Federal election laws permit individual donors to give a candidate a maximum contribution of $2,500 for a primary campaign and $2,500 for a general election race.
Campaign finance records the Beacon Journal reviewed show Suarez has been a longtime contributor to high-profile Republican candidates.
In June 2010, according to the records, he contributed $11,000 to the successful gubernatorial campaign of Kasich and his running mate, Mary Taylor. In September 2009, the records show Suarez gave another donation of $11,395 to Kasich-Taylor for Ohio
Late Thursday, a spokesman for Gov. John Kasich said a check for more than $22,000 in campaign donations from Suarez would be sent to a state charity, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Suarez also gave a $10,000 contribution, in July 2006, to Ohioans for Ken Blackwell.
He also has made, according to the records, $1,000 campaign contributions to appeals Judge W. Scott Gwin (2006) and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger (2004).
Shortly after news of the federal probe was revealed in a New Republican magazine story in May 2012, Suarez denied any wrongdoing in a newspaper interview. He told the Canton Repository that the FBI investigation was “punishment because we’re Republican donors.”
According to the website of his company, which sells products ranging from space heaters to jewelry to health products and collectible coins, it has yearly sales of more than $100 million.
Beacon Journal wire services contributed to this report. Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at email@example.com.