News Column

Former Suarez executive tells jury about plea deal in testimony against former boss

June 12, 2014

By Ed Meyer, The Akron Beacon Journal

June 12--CLEVELAND -- Michael Giorgio testified Thursday that he received a "massive benefit" by pleading guilty last month to violating campaign finance laws and other federal crimes.

The testimony of the former chief financial officer of Suarez Corp. Industries came on the eighth day of the trial of his boss and SCI founder, Benjamin Suarez, who was indicted in September on virtually the same charges.

In a step-by-step review of the 26-page plea deal that Giorgio struck with the U.S. Attorney's Office last month -- two weeks before the scheduled trial date for Suarez -- defense attorney Mark Schamel fired one question after another at Giorgio.

Some questions were allowed. Others were stopped by the judge before Giorgio could answer.

But jurors still heard every word.

When Schamel asked Giorgio about the potential reduction in his federal prison sentence through his plea deal, he was allowed to answer.

"So is it fair to say," Schamel asked, "that you went from looking at eight years to looking at two years. Correct?"

"Correct," Giorgio replied from his seat at the witness stand, only a few feet apart from the jury box.

Schamel set up the question by walking Giorgio through the first part of his lengthy plea deal, then asking him whether it was a "massive benefit" to accept such a deal eight months after he and Suarez were indicted.

Giorgio agreed it was.

The only felony count dismissed from his plea deal, he then acknowledged, was the most serious charge: obstruction of justice. That charge, Schamel asserted, carried a maximum sentence of 20 years.

Giorgio, 62, said he knew that.

Schamel then asked if such a stiff penalty essentially would have meant a life sentence for Giorgio if he went to trial and was convicted. Prosecutors objected, the judge sustained their objection and Giorgio didn't answer.

U.S. District Judge Patricia A. Gaughan, who is handling the case, sustained other prosecution objections, stopping Giorgio from answering on these assertive questions by Schamel:

--SCI paid Giorgio's legal fees, a sum of about $1.2 million, to a Cleveland law firm that represented him during a nearly three-year period leading up to and including his plea deal.

--The maximum, eight-year prison term under the sentencing guidelines for the charges to which he pleaded guilty would have meant that such a sentence would have been served at a maximum-security federal prison.

--The two-year term that prosecutors recommended for Giorgio means that he could be sent to a much less restrictive prison camp.

Gaughan has the final say on Giorgio's sentence.

Although jurors were not allowed to hear Giorgio's answers on those points, they did hear him acknowledge that a key part of his plea deal, in which he wrote his initials "MG" as a sign that he agreed with the details in the prosecution's specific charge, wasn't true.

It was contained on Page 16 of the plea, and it states: "As directed by Suarez, Giorgio spoke to several long-time SCI managers and executives, and asked that they and their spouses each contribute $5,000 to the 2012 House Campaign."

That was a reference to the campaign of U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth.

Giorgio previously testified that he received a call from Suarez, in March 2011, about the need to raise $100,000 for Renacci's re-election campaign.

But under questioning by Schamel about that call, Giorgio told the jury that Suarez never mentioned anything about recruiting SCI spouses as donors.

"That's something you came up with on your own?" Schamel asked.

"Yes," Giorgio said, quickly adding that he did it to raise the requested $100,000.

As another part of the case against Suarez, prosecutors say he also asked so-called "straw donors" from SCI to raise $100,000 for the failed U.S. Senate bid of Ohio Speaker Josh Mandel.

Suarez has pleaded not guilty to all charges in his indictment.

The Renacci and Mandel campaigns returned the donations and neither man has been charged with violating any laws.

More details will follow on and in Friday's edition of the Akron Beacon Journal.

Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or


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Source: Akron Beacon Journal (OH)

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