MANATEE -- U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan's campaign said Friday it will refund $84,300 it had received in connection with a case of illegal contributions.
"We will be giving the funds to the Treasury, similar to what Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid did under the same circumstances," said Sarasota Republican's campaign spokesman, Max Goodman.
The subject arose after a Buchanan supporter,Tampa real estate developer Timothy Mobley, plead-ed guilty Thursday to illegally reimbursing employees for donations made to Buchanan's congressional campaign, the U.S. Justice Department said in a news release.
His accountant, Timothy Hohl, pleaded guilty to three counts of aiding in the scheme, the Justice Department said.
Mobley faces up to 10 years in prison and fines totaling $882,000; Hohl faces up to three years in prison and a $300,000 fine, it said.
In pleading guilty to one count each of making illegal conduit and illegal corporate contributions, Mobley admitted that from March 2006 through October 2008, "he made contributions to the campaign of an individual referred to in court documents as 'Federal Elected Official A," that were above the legal limit, the news release said.
A review of Federal Election Commission records shows that during the time in question, Mobley only contributed money to one candidate: Buchanan.
The amount of money reimbursed for donations to Buchanan's campaign totaled $84,300, the release said.
Mobley also improperly reimbursed $10,000 in donations to the Republican Party of Florida, which a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party, David Bergstein, said should be refunded as well.
"We're calling on them to refund the donations immediately and cooperate with federal authorities, so that law enforcement can do its work as they investigate the connection between the RPOF, Vern Buchanan and these guilty individuals," Bergstein said Friday.
Pleading guilty to three counts of aiding and
abetting the scheme was Mobley's accountant, Hohl, the Justice Department release said.
Calls to Mobley's attorney, Rob Walker, were not returned Friday.
Hohl's attorney, Robert Kelner, said, "Tim Hohl cooperated with the Department of Justice's investigation, and we are grateful that the Department of Justice has indicated that, based upon his cooperation, they will recommend to the judge a sentence of probation."
Buchanan and his campaign were unaware of the illegal donations, said the congressman's attorney, Robert Luskin.
"The announcement earlier this month that the Justice Department has cleared Congressman Buchanan of any wrongdoing proves conclusively that Congressman Buchanan and his campaign were totally unaware of any unlawful contributions, and had no knowledge of -- or involvement in -- these activities," Luskin said in a statement.
The case was prosecuted by lawyers in the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section, the same office that notified Buchanan earlier this month that it was no longer investigating him.
FBI agents in Tampa and Jacksonville also participated in the investigation.
Allegations of illegal reimbursements for donations to Buchanan -- and in at least once instance, claims that Buchanan orchestrated the scheme -- have spawned a series of investigations of Buchanan's political and business practices.
During a Federal Election Commission investigation, government lawyers initially said there was probable cause to believe allegations that Buchanan had instructed a former business partner, Sam Kazran, to reimburse employees of a car dealership they co-owned in Jacksonville.
The election commission closed its probe without taking action against Buchanan. But it did fine Kazran and the dealership $67,900 each for the illegal donations.
The House Ethics Committee is currently reviewing allegations that Buchanan tried to improperly influence Kazran's testimony in the case.
"Given Vern Buchanan's sordid history, these developments aren't surprising, but they are concerning," said Bergstein, Democratic Party spokesman.
"He's clearly shown, yet again, he's more focused on defending his own political career than looking out for middle-class families of Sarasota and Bradenton," he said.
"It's certainly a shake-up in this race."
A spokeswoman for Buchanan's Democratic challenger, Keith Fitzgerald, said the plea agreements show again that Buchanan is too corrupt for Congress.
"The scandals with Congressman Buchanan continue; seemingly each week, we hear something new about his legacy of corruption," Ana Maria Rosato, communications director for the Fitzgerald campaign, said in a news release.
"For once, Mr. Buchanan needs tell the truth to his constituents about the numerous investigations that he has been, and continues to be, under," she wrote.
"At a time when the middle class needs a full-time champion fighting for them every day, Congressman Buchanan is continually consumed with his ongoing legal battles and personal self-interest."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.