A financial supporter of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan is again in trouble for making illegal financial contributions to the congressman's campaign.
Buchanan's campaign Friday afternoon said it would be returning $84,000 in tainted donations.
“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 Max Goodman, a spokesman for Buchanan's campaign.
Timothy Mobley, a Tampa real estate developer, on Thursday pleaded guilty to illegally reimbursing employees for donations made to Buchanan's congressional campaigns. His accountant, Timothy Hohl, pleaded guilty to three counts of aiding the scheme.
In pleading guilty in a Jacksonville court 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," a Justice Department news release states.
A review of Federal Elections Commission records shows that during the time in question, the only candidate Mobley contributed money to was Buchanan.
The amount of the reimbursements for donations to Buchanan totaled $84,300, according to the Justice Department. Mobley also improperly reimbursed employees for $10,000 in donations to the Republican Party of Florida.
Pleading guilty to three counts of aiding and abetting the illegal contributions was Mobley's accountant Timothy Hohl.
Buchanan's attorney Robert Luskin said the congressman and his campaign were not aware of the illegal donations.
“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 issued by Buchanan's campaign. “This situation is no different from the recent DOJ cases against donors who unlawfully raised money for Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid, all three of whom were similarly cleared of any knowledge or involvement in those matters."
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 offices in Tampa and Jacksonville also participated in the investigation.
Allegations of illegal reimbursements for donations to Buchanan -- and in at least once instance, that Buchanan orchestrated the scheme -- have been at the root of several investigations of Buchanan's political and business practices.
During a FEC 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. But like the Justice Department did later, the FEC closed its probe without taking action against Buchanan -- but fined 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.
As it has throughout the current campaign, Democratic challenger Keith Fitzgerald said the Mobley case shows 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 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. 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."
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called on Buchanan to return the tainted donations.
“Now that two fundraisers for Congressman Vern Buchanan’s campaign are guilty of an illegal campaign finance scheme involving Congressman Vern Buchanan’s campaign, will Congressman Buchanan return this tainted campaign cash?” DCCC spokeswoman Stephanie Formas said in a news release. “First, the Federal Election Commission found that Congressman Buchannan ‘more likely than not’ violated federal law for an illegal campaign finance scheme involving his car dealerships and now we find out that a long time friend of Congressman Buchanan was convicted of a similar scandal. Suncoast families are tired of turning on the television to find Congressman Buchanan who has spent his time in Congress building a record of scandal.”
The Florida Democratic Party called on the Florida GOP to refund the donations it received, and joined in on the political attack on Buchanan.
"Given Vern Buchanan’s sordid history, these developments aren't surprising, but they are concerning," said party spokesman David Bergstein. "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.”
"It’s certainly a shake-up in this race.”
Mobley faces up to 10 years in prison and fines totaling $882,000. Hohl faces up to three years in prison and a $100,000 fine, according to the Justice Department.