A funny thing happened to Treasurer Josh Mandel and U.S. Rep.Jim Renacci on their way to November’s elections. The two Ohio Republicans find themselves mired in a messy case involving indicted Canton businessman Benjamin Suarez, who will stand trial in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, beginning Monday, on money laundering charges.

The basic scheme, as revealed by Suarez’s convicted treasurer Michael Giorgio, who blabbed in a a plea deal, turned on having a couple of dozen company employees drop in $5,000 each to fill the political pot, with assurances from Suarez that their “gifts” would be reimbursed. Nothing very imaginative, really.

Although Mandel and Renacci have not been charged and claim they eventually returned the money to the employees, they have been subpoenaed to appear as key figures in the case. Moreover, it can’t help either candidate to have their dealings with Suarez taking up so much inglorious space in the media.

Each received over $100,000 from Suarez to intervene in a California civil suit against Suarez Corp. Industries (SCI) that accused the company of violating consumer protection laws.

Mandel is up against a tough Democratic opponent, state Rep. Connie Pillich. Among other things, she’s a former Air Force captain who served during Desert Storm which, for this campaign, could put a dent in Mandel’s conceits about his own military service that turned up so often during his loss to Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, in 2012.

The paper trail in the Suarez case tells us Mandel came on strong for Suarez, threatening to sue the state of California and urging Renacci to support new federal law that would soften damages awarded in deceptive advertising. (Suarez’s company operated on a global scale as a marketer.)

Renacci appeared safe enough in a bizarrely drawn house district created as his own plantation. His Democratic opponent is Pete Crossland, former state lawmaker, county councilman and political science professor who threw his body into the race when nobody else dared challenge Renacci.

When we saw him a week or so ago, he was smiling.

 

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