Watchdog Group Questions Mandel's Involvement In Suarez Contributions

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A criminal trial about political corruption, money laundering and access to power is happening this week in Cleveland and state treasurer Josh Mandel finds himself in the center of it.

At the trial today, federal prosecutors said that Republican campaign contributor and businessman Benjamin Suarez personally directed a scheme to use his employees to make illegal campaign contributions in 2012.  Many of them had never given political contributions before.

But bundles of $5,000 checks - totaling $100,000 - found their way to the campaign of Josh Mandel who was running for the US senate.

All this happened after Suarez met privately with Mandel and requested his help on business matters.

Prosecutors said Mandel later wrote a letter to the California state treasurer on behalf of Suarez.

"Josh Mandel made the arrangements to help Benjamin Suarez through his campaign," said Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio.  "This letter that Mandel sent to the California treasurer defending Suarez's actions was actually organized through his senate campaign fundraiser.  So the question is whether that's illegal."

Prosecutors have not charged Mandel, or Rep Jim Renacci who also had a private meeting with Suarez.  Renacci's campaign later received $90,000.

"It's hard to imagine that anyone would launder $200,000 unless they had some expectation of a significant benefit," said Turcer.  "To see people who have a lot of money and willing to make a significant campaign contribution get this kind of special treatment for our elected officials is really depressing."

The trial is expected to last up to four weeks.  It is not known whether Mandel and Renacci will testify.

Suarez faces a sentence of 10 to 12-1/2 years in prison if found guilty.