The company rose to statewide - nay, national - fame in the run-up to the 2012 elections. Mandel was challenging Sen. Sherrod Brown for his seat at the time, though he would go on to lose. As the campaign wore on, it came to light that Benjamin Suarez of Suarez Corp. had been encouraging his employees to donate money to Mandel's efforts and those of Rep. Jim Renacci, a Wadsworth-area Republican. The cash totaled more than $200,000 by the time the Toledo Blade-led investigation crashed down on Suarez's head.
Suarez and CFO Michael Giorgio had recruited about 21 employees to go along with the scheme. They wrote checks in the employees' names - sometimes roping in spouses, as well - and promised to reimburse them with company funds. That revelation answered questions about how copywriters living in modest ranch homes, for instance, could funnel $5,000 checks to a politician.
(Both Mandel and Ranacci returned the contributions following investigations by The Toledo Blade and, later, The New Republic.)
After the indictment made news, Mandel spokeswoman Rebecca Wasserstein released this little nugget:
Neither Treasurer Mandel nor his campaign committee have been accused of any wrongdoing. Treasurer Mandel has a deep respect for the justice process and his campaign has fully cooperated with the investigation. Out of an abundance of caution, these contributions were returned over a year ago.
And that's a noteworthy segue for the latest round of investigative highlights from the Ohio press.
Here's the Dayton Daily News' Laura Bischoff, who reveals another layer of what we're going to call Mandel-Suarez Handshake:
Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel wrote two letters advocating for Suarez Corporation Industries’ business interests in California at the same time that company founder Ben Suarez was raising $100,000 for Mandel’s campaign for U.S. Senate, according to records released by Mandel’s office to the Dayton Daily News…
The letters document Mandel’s attempts to convince officials in California to back away from mounting a separate legal case against Suarez Corp….In 2011, Suarez Corp. was facing litigation filed by district attorneys in several California counties over allegations of deceptive advertising practices. Mandel wrote a letter to Renacci on March 21, 2011, urging him to support a bill in Congress to head off such lawsuits. Mandel sent another strongly-worded letter to California Treasurer Bill Lockyer on May 23, 2011, that said lawsuits filed by California district attorneys threaten jobs in Stark County, which includes Canton.
Referring to Suarez Corp. employees in Ohio, Mandel wrote on state treasurer letterhead: “I cannot sit back idly while 681 Ohioans potentially lose their jobs due to the prosecutorial excesses of California DA’s. I cannot let my state lose $5 million in tax revenues due to these abuses. I cannot allow this practice to continue against additional Ohio companies without speaking up and taking action.” He added that if the situation wasn’t resolved, he would urge Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to file a federal lawsuit against California. Mandel copied California Attorney General Kamala Harris on the correspondence.
Three days after Mandel sent the Lockyer letter, donations began pouring into Mandel’s U.S. Senate campaign from Suarez Corp. employees and their spouses.
Interesting how that works!
Around the same time, according to the indictment, a Mandel campaign aide sent an email to a Suarez official, asking him or her to “give me a quick buzz” regarding a letter “I am working on today." That message and others similar in tone were withheld from the grand jury by Suarez and Giorgio. Mandel responded to the claims by saying that he “does not recall being personally involved with these constituent letters."