Stark County businessman Benjamin Suarez pleaded not guilty Friday to an amended indictment alleging he and his company’s top executive made illegal campaign contributions two years ago.
Suarez, 72, and Michael Giorgio, 61, appeared in U.S. District Court in Cleveland where they were arraigned a second time before Judge Patricia A. Gaughan.
The arraignment comes amid new reports that Rep. Jim Renacci wrote a 2011 letter to Ohio Gov. John Kasich on behalf of Suarez Corp. Industries about the same time the company’s employees made $90,000 in questionable donations to Renacci’s re-election campaign.
The Wadsworth Republican’s letter urged Kasich to contact California Gov. Jerry Brown to intervene in a legal dispute that Suarez, a North Canton direct marketing company, was having in California.
“It appears as if several District Attorneys in California may have been abusing the privilege of their office by filing repeated frivolous and baseless lawsuits, costing constituents of ours millions in settlements and attorney’s fees,” Renacci’s letter said.
“While I support tort reform and the elimination of frivolous lawsuits filed solely to elicit a settlement, I also recognize that these issues are best left to the states,” the March 29, 2011 letter continues. “Accordingly, I urge you to contact Governor Brown to share our concerns with this matter and work together to find a commonsense solution that protects American and Ohioan businesses and jobs.”
Kasich’s office said the governor did not contact Brown, as Renacci requested. Suarez also contacted Kasich’s office directly to seek help with his legal disputes and was told “we can’t help you,” said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols.
Federal prosecutors last month added Suarez Corp. Industries to the criminal indictment case last month and required Suarez and Giorgio to appear a second time for arraignment.
The men remain free on bond.
One of their attorneys, Brian Pierce of Cleveland, said after the arraignment that the men are next due in court on April 30 for a final pretrial.
The judge had already set a June 2 trial date.
Federal prosecutors in September unsealed an indictment which accused Suarez and Giorgio of soliciting several Suarez Corp. executives and some of their spouses into making $5,000 campaign contributions to the 2012 U.S. Senate campaign of Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel and the Congressional campaign of Renacci.
Prosecutors allege Suarez later reimbursed the executives through payroll checks.
Suarez is also accused of obstructing a follow-up investigation into the payments and telling at least one executive how to answer FBI questions.
Suarez has vehemently denied claims in the criminal allegations and said that the workers made the donations on their own and they were never reimbursed.
Neither Mandel nor Renacci has been accused of any wrongdoing.