Buchanan accuser admits to reimbursing campaign donations

mmasferrer@bradenton.comFebruary 21, 2012 

A former business partner admits that he was responsible for improperly reimbursing employees for contributions they made to Rep. Vern Buchanan’s congressional campaigns.

Under a consent judgement announced Tuesday, a federal court in Jacksonville found that Sam Kazran committed “non-knowing and non-willful” violations when he reimbursed employees of a Jacksonville car dealership he co-owned with Buchanan a total of $67,900 for contributions they made to Buchanan’s congressional campaigns in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Kazran admitted to wrongdoing, but his attorney said he was “just a pawn in a scheme devised by Vern Buchanan” to launder campaign contributions.

Robert Stok said Kazran agreed to a settlement because of the expense of taking the case to trial. He said the judgment does not clear Buchanan because the congressman was not a party in the lawsuit filed last year against Kazran by the Federal Elections Commission.

“It’s impossible from a legal or factual point of view for Mr. Kazran to be guilty and Mr. Buchanan not to be guilty,” Stok said.

Stok said that without Buchanan’s involvement, Kazran would not have had any motive for reimbursing the contributions.

An attorney for Buchanan applauded the settlement.

“The consent judgment against Sam Kazran that the FEC released today confirms what we have said all along: Mr. Kazran is the one who instructed his employees and family members to contribute to the campaign, and Mr. Kazran is the one who authorized their reimbursement in violation of the law,” William McGinley said in a statement.

“We are pleased that the truth finally has been established and hope this puts an end to the false allegations that Congressman Buchanan was aware of Mr. Kazran’s misconduct,” McGinley said.

As part of the settlement, Kazran will pay the FEC civil penalties totaling $11,000 paid over the next two years. Stok said it was a “nominal amount” because the current value of the penalties is about $7,000.

Stok the FEC would not have agreed to such a small settlement if it thought it had a strong case against Kazran. The judge had encourage both sides to strike a deal, Stok said.

The consent judgment states that Kazran had argued that Buchanan “had a commanding knowledge of election laws far superior” to Kazran’s, and that he did not know the reimbursements were illegal.

While Buchanan was not a party in the case, the court action is the latest legal victory for Buchanan as he tries to fend off questions about his ethics and how he has raised money for his campaigns.

The FEC last year closed its investigation of Kazran’s allegations without taking action against the congressman, in part because of doubts investigators had about Kazran’s credibility.

Attorneys for Buchanan have acknowledged that the Justice Department is conducting a separate investigation of Buchanan’s campaign finances. Justice has declined to comment on its probe.

The House Ethics Committee also is considering whether to launch an investigation of allegations that Buchanan improperly failed to list on financial disclosure reports certain positions he holds with companies and other organizations and more than $14,000 in income.

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