Saturday, June 23, 2018
Politics

Friend of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan pleads guilty to campaign violations

In a stunning development just weeks before the November election, one of U.S. Rep Vern Buchanan's longtime friends and another man pleaded guilty Thursday to making illegal campaign contributions.

Tampa developer Tim Mobley and accountant Timothy Hohl admitted breaking federal law by reimbursing employees for $84,300 in contributions to an official described in a Justice Department press release only as "an elected member of the U.S. Congress.''

That official is Buchanan, whose office quickly issued a statement saying the Sarasota Republican was "totally unaware'' of any unlawful contributions and would "disgorge'' them, almost certainly to the U.S. Treasury.

Buchanan's campaigns have long been plagued by allegations of fundraising irregularities, but this is the first time anyone has been criminally prosecuted.

The Justice Department said Mobley, 60, admitted that from March 2006 to October 2008 — a period covering Buchanan's first two congressional campaigns — he illegally disguised contributions by reimbursing donations made by his employees.

He also admitted trying to conceal reimbursements by characterizing them as legitimate bonuses. In all, Mobley admitted, he reimbursed $84,300 to Buchanan's campaign and $10,000 to the Republican Party of Florida.

Hohl, who was working as an accountant for Mobley, admitted he reimbursed others and also accepted reimbursement for his own contributions and those of his wife.

Federal election law bans making contributions in the name of another. Mobley faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $632,000 fine. Hohl faces a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

In 2009, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Terry Keith Howell, a former partner of Mobley and Hohl in a trucking business, said the two men had illegally reimbursed him for contributing $8,800 to Buchanan's 2008 campaign and $10,000 to Florida's Republican Party.

Howell made the allegations in a deposition in a foreclosure case, pointedly noting he was a registered Democrat who was in bankruptcy proceedings at the time.

"I take it that you didn't make these contributions willingly?'' a lawyer asked him.

"Right. Right,'' Howell replied. "If I never contributed anything to anybody as far as a campaign, why would all of a sudden I want to give somebody, you know, $19,000, especially being involved in a bankruptcy?''

At the time, Mobley denied Howell's allegations, saying Howell instead took money out of the trucking company accounts as compensation he was entitled to as a partner.

"It was his decision as to what he did with any such distribution,'' Mobley told the Times.

A prominent home builder, Mobley is developing the K-Bar Ranch area of New Tampa. In 2010, Buchanan used a mortgage he held on some of Mobley's land as collateral for a $3.9 million Bank of America loan.

The two men have known each other since Buchanan and his wife moved from Michigan in the early 1990s.

Neither Mobley nor Hohl could be reached for comment Thursday.

Over the years, several former employees of Buchanan's car dealerships have said they were illegally reimbursed for campaign contributions. In April 2010, the Federal Election Commission notified Buchanan it had found reason to believe he knowingly took $67,900 in illegal donations for his 2006 and 2008 campaigns from employees of the Jacksonville Hyundai dealership he then owned.

Last year, an FEC report showed the federal agency had significant concerns about what Buchanan knew about illegal donations. Evidence suggests "it is more likely than not'' that his campaign committee broke federal election laws, FEC attorneys wrote in the report.

Even so, the FEC did not feel it had a strong enough case to pursue action against the congressman, who is seeking a fourth term and faces former state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald in November.

Earlier this month, Buchanan's office said the Justice Department had closed its investigation of all allegations against him regarding campaign finance and other irregularities.

Susan Tayor Martin can be contacted at [email protected]

Comments
Six candidates waltz into their seats as qualifying ends. The rest still have a fight

Six candidates waltz into their seats as qualifying ends. The rest still have a fight

Six local candidates across Tampa Bay — all county commissioners and city council members — effectively won their elections Friday by default: No one qualified to run against them.The rest still have a fight.Some will square off in an Aug. 28 primary...
Published: 06/22/18
Former Tampa police corporal qualifies as Democrat to run for Hillsborough sheriff

Former Tampa police corporal qualifies as Democrat to run for Hillsborough sheriff

TAMPA — A Democrat has officially joined the race for Hillsborough County sheriff.Gary Pruitt, a 50-year-old former Tampa police corporal who now works as director of security at a local mall, qualified Friday to challenge Republican Sheriff Chad Chr...
Published: 06/22/18
Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

So Hillsborough County commissioners — most of them, anyway — want voters to consider dropping political parties from certain elections, making those races nonpartisan instead.This would mean when you go to vote in those elections, you won’t know if ...
Published: 06/22/18
Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

NEW PORT RICHEY — A seasoned historic hotel renovator and operator is going to take a crack at getting New Port Richey’s city-owned Hacienda Hotel back into action. New Port Richey City Council members, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, u...
Published: 06/20/18
Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis stepped into a growing controversy over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, criticizing the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexican border and saying that "populism" and "creating psychosis" are not t...
Published: 06/20/18
Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Well, that didn’t last long.U.S. Army veteran Michael Sean McCoy filed to run as the Republican candidate in the State House, District 57 race just hours after incumbent State Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, announced he was stepping down.McCoy, who live...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

At this moment, she is Tampa Bay’s most influential export. A smart, accomplished and powerful attorney making life-altering decisions on an international stage.But what of tomorrow? And the day after?When the story of President Donald Trump’s border...
Published: 06/19/18
‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

SEATTLE — The call came at mealtime — an anonymous threat demanding $5,000 or her son’s life. So Blanca Orantes-Lopez, her 8-year-old boy and his father packed up and left the Pacific surfing town of Puerto La Libertad in El Salvador and headed for t...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

WASHINGTON - As he prepared to visit Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued to insist that Congress produce comprehensive immigration legislation, while anxious Republicans explored a narrower fix to the administration policy of se...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calls are mounting on Capitol Hill for the Trump administration to end the separation of families at the southern border ahead of a visit from President Donald Trump to discuss legislation.Trump’s meeting late Tuesday afternoon with...
Published: 06/19/18