Thursday, November 17, 2011


MOST CORRUPT: REPRESENTATIVE VERN BUCHANAN Representative Vern Buchanan (R-FL) is a three-term member of Congress, representing Florida’s 13th district. His ethics issues stem from (1) pressuring partners and employees tomake contributions to his campaign committee; (2) reimbursing them from his corporate funds;(3) trying to coerce a partner into signing a false affidavit;

(4) improper use of corporateresources for campaign purposes. Rep. Buchanan was included in CREW’s 2008 and 2009congressional corruption reports for related matters.Conduit ContributionsRep. Buchanan owned several car dealerships in Florida when he began his congressionalcampaign in 2005, including Venice Nissan Dodge, Sarasota Ford, and Hyundai of NorthJacksonville (HNJ).1Rep. Buchanan’s former partner in HNJ, Sam Kazran, as well as severalother former employees of Rep. Buchanan’s dealerships, have since alleged Rep. Buchanan anddealership managers pressured them to make contributions to his campaign committee that werelater reimbursed with corporate funds. Mr. Kazran claimed Rep. Buchanan personally instructedhim to engage in the reimbursement scheme at HNJ and another dealership.2 In a sworn deposition to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), Mr. Kazran explainedthat in July 2005 - around the time Rep. Buchanan launched hiscampaign for Congress - Rep.Buchanan askedhim to contribute to the Buchanan campaign,3and he contributed the maximumpermitted by law.4Subsequently, Rep. Buchanan pressured Mr. Kazran to raise more money forthe campaign.5When Mr. Kazran said he did not have the money to do so, Rep. Buchananresponded:

“Well,don’t you have somebody at the dealership you can trust? Just run it throughthe corporation.”6Mr. Kazran believed Rep. Buchanan was instructing him “to have someone1Republican Seeks Seat, Bradenton Herald , June 29, 2005; Rep. Vernon G. Buchanan, Personal FinancialDisclosure Statement for January 1, 2004-April 30, 2006, filed May 12, 2006.2Federal Election Commission, Confidential Investigative Deposition of Sam Kazran, November 6, 2009 (KazranDeposition).3 Id., pp. 7-8.4 Id., pp. 11-12;see alsoVern Buchanan for Congress, FEC Form 3, October Quarterly Report, October 14, 2005.5Kazran Deposition, p. 13.6 Id.Mr. Kazran recounted Rep. Buchanan’s instructions to find people he could trust and run their reimbursementsthrough the corporation several times in his deposition.See id., p. 21 (“I instructed [employees] to write a check andreimburse themselves for [it] – because Mr. Buchanan had asked me to get money. And he specifically told me getsomeone you trust and run it though the corporation.”);id., p. 32 (“And he said to me, he says, Get somebody youtrust and get the money out of the corporation.”);id.(“He had asked me to get money, I told him, I said, I thoughtyou said I’m maxed out?

I’ve already given you that money. And he said, Well, just get somebody you trust andrun it through the corporation.”);id., p. 36 (“And when I told him that I don’t have it, he says, Well, get somebodyyou trust and run it through the corporation.”);id., p. 37 (“And I said, You already told me I can’t give any money 
write the check personally and then give them back the money through the corporation.”7Mr.Kazran noted another HNJexecutive, Josh Farid, was with him when Rep. Buchanan discussedthis reimbursement scheme.8Mr. Farid has confirmed Mr. Kazran’s account, recounting thatRep. Buchanan was “talking to [Mr. Kazran] about raising money and the campaigncontributions,” and told him “‘You can get that money reimbursed through the dealership.’”9 Another HNJ employee similarly asserted Rep. Buchanan knew about the contributionreimbursements.10 Mr. Kazran testified further he was “very confident” Rep. Buchanan also told his otherpartners to engage in reimbursement schemes, and personally observed one conversation inwhich Rep. Buchanan did so.11According to Mr. Kazran, at one partnership meeting Rep.Buchanan approached his company’s chief operating officer, Dennis Slater, and told him “Ihaven’t gotten your check yet.”12When Mr. Slater responded he was “hopingto take a pass,”Rep. Buchanan said, “Don’t worry. You know you’re going to get it back.”13 According to the sworn affidavits of two former Venice Nissan Dodge employees,employees of Rep. Buchanan’s Automobile Holdings, Inc. (BAH), including employees of Venice Nissan Dodge and Sarasota Ford,

 were either reimbursed with corporate funds formaking $1,000 contributions to Rep. Buchanan’s 2006 congressional campaign, or were coercedinto making contributions.14Carlo A. Bell, Venice Nissan Dodge’s former finance director, saidthat on September 15, 2005, the dealership’s general manager, Don Caldwell, called him into ameeting with Jack Prater, the Dodge sales manager, and Jason Martin, the Dodge financemanager and Mr. Caldwell’s nephew.15According to Mr. Bell,Mr. Caldwell shut the door to the office and told the three of usthat we needed to contribute to the campaign of Vern Buchanan,who was then running for Congress in Florida’s 13th congressionaldistrict. Mr. Caldwell was holding cash in his hand at the time andsaid that the company would reimburse us for our contributions.He explained that the company would give us $1,000 cash inexchange for our writing $1,000 checks to the campaign.16He says, Don’t you have somebody, like your brother or someone you trust that you can get to write a check for me?. . . Run it through the corporation.”).7Kazran Deposition, p. 14.See also id., p. 37.8 Id., pp. 13, 32.9Virginia Chamlee, More Former Buchanan Employees Speak Out About Pressure To Donate, ReimbursementScheme,Florida Independent , August 5, 2011.10 Id.11Kazran Deposition, p. 14.12 Id., pp. 14-15.13 Id., p. 15.See also id., p. 31.14FEC Complaint filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Carlo Bell and David Padilla,Affidavit of Carlo A. Bell, filed August 19, 2008 (Bell Affidavit); FEC Complaint filed by Citizens forResponsibility and Ethics in Washington, Carlo Bell and David Padilla, Affidavit of David Padilla, filed August 19,2008 (Padilla Affidavit).15Bell Affidavit.

Mr. Bell asked Mr. Caldwell if this was legal, but rather than answering, Mr. Caldwellinstead asked if Mr. Bell was on the team or not.17Afraid hemight lose his job, Mr. Bell repliedyes, he was a part of the team and agreedto write the check.18Mr. Caldwell then handed $1,000to Mr. Bell, Mr. Prater, and Mr. Martin.19Mr. Bell later discussed the meeting with Mr.Prater and Mr. Martin and all agreed it seemed wrong to accept cash to write checks to theBuchanan campaign, but they were “afraid that refusing to do so might endanger [their]employment with Venice Nissan Dodge.”20Mr. Bell subsequently learned two other VeniceNissan Dodge employees, Marvin White and William Mullins, also received $1,000 cashreimbursements when they agreed to write checks to the Buchanan campaign.21 On September 16, 2005, the day after he was given the $1,000 by Mr. Caldwell, Mr.Belldeposited $960 in cash to his bank account, keeping the remaining $40 for spending money.22 On September 16, 2005, Mr. Bell wrote a check to the Buchanan campaign for $1,000.23 Mr. Bell’s account of the reimbursement scheme was confirmed by David J. Padilla, afinance manager at Venice Nissan Dodge in 2005.24In September 2005, Mr. Padilla wasapproached by Brad Combs, another finance manager at Venice Nissan Dodge, who told him“Mr. Buchanan needed campaign contributions andthat anyone who made a contribution wouldget his money back plus additional compensation.”25When Mr. Padilla refused to participate inthe reimbursement scheme,

Mr. Combs told him “that all of the managers were being asked tocontribute andthat many were planning to accept reimbursements in exchange forcontributions.”26Mr. Padilla later discovered several other Venice Nissan Dodge employees,including Mr. Bell, Mr. Prater, and Mr. Martin, had been reimbursed for making contributions toMr. Buchanan’s congressional campaign.27 Separately, Joseph Kezer, the former finance director of Sarasota Ford, described thereimbursement scheme at that dealership. Mr. Kezer said he personally observed campaignfinance violations before Rep. Buchanan’s 2006 general election and that some of the $8 millionspent by the Buchanan campaign in 2006 was “laundered corporate cash funneled throughhigher-ups at Buchanan’s numerous dealerships.”28Mr. Kezer “fielded phone calls from otherdealership executives wanting to know whether company reimbursement checks they had cashedput them in legal peril.”29He said, “After it happened, a couple of [managers] contacted me17 Id.18 Id.19Bell Affidavit.20 Id.21 Id.22 Id.23Bell Affidavit; FEC Complaint filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Carlo Bell andDavid Padilla, Cancelled Check and Deposit Slip, filed August 19, 2008.24Padilla Affidavit.25 Id.26 Id.27 Id.28Matthew Murray, Buchanan Faces Another Lawsuit, Roll Call, June 2, 2008.

because theywere concerned . . . I didn’t know at the time . . . whether it was a good thing or abad thing.”30 Mr. Kezer also alleged he was pressured to make a contribution and that as af urtherreward, Rep. Buchanan offered him the use of his vacation house in Vail, Colorado.31AlthoughMr. Kezer did not want to donate, Mr. Kezer madeacontribution of $2,000 to Rep. Buchanan’scampaign committee because he feared for his job.32Neither Mr. Kezer norMr. Bell everdonated to a political campaign before or after donating to Rep. Buchanan.33 In 2009, another allegation of a conduit contribution to Rep. Buchanan’s campaigncommittee surfaced.34Terry Keith Howell, a registered Democrat, claimed he hadbeenreimbursed for donations he had made unwillingly to Rep. Buchanan’s campaign.35Accordingto a deposition he gave in a lawsuit, Mr. Howell claimed the $8,800 contribution he made toRep. Buchanan and the $10,000 he gave to the Republican Party of Florida were paid by hisbusiness partners, including Timothy Mobley, a Tampa developer and major contributor to Rep.Buchanan.36Mr. Mobley was Mr. Howell’s business partner in a trucking company.

Mr.Howell said, “Tim Mobley told me that Vern Buchanan is somebody good to have on your side,because he was going to be in charge of overseeing the DOT transportation stuff, so the amountof favors he could do for us wasenormous.”37Notably, Mr. Howell was in bankruptcy at thetime he made the contributions.38 On October 17, 2010, Rep. Buchanan’s campaign refunded $5,000incontributions thathad been made by five former employees, including $1,000 from Mr. Bell.39The refunds weremade to the Treasury Department rather than to the donors themselves, the usual protocol forrefunding illegal donations.40The campaign committee publicly disclosed the refunds in aMarch 2011 FEC filing.41Pressure to Sign False AffidavitMr. Kazran testified he had a “great relationship” with Rep. Buchanan until June 2008,when he discovered Rep. Buchanan “had taken some $800-or-so thousand out of the companywithout my consent.”42In September 2008, this and related disputes resulted in litigation30 Id.31Jeremy Wallace and Carol E. Lee, Official Denies Donation Pressure, Herald Tribune, July 29, 2008.32 Id.; Vern Buchanan for Congress, FEC Form 3, October Quarterly Report 2005, October 14, 2005.33CQ MoneyLine, Donor Lookup, Carlo Bell, 1979-Present; CQ MoneyLine, Donor Lookup, Joseph Kezer, 1979-Present.34Susan Taylor Martin, Hard Times, Large Checks,St. Petersburg Times, June 20, 2009.35 Id.36 Id.37 Id.38Martin,St. Petersburg Times, June 20, 2009.39Matthew Doig and Jeremy Wallace, Buchanan Returns Questioned Donations,Sarasota Herald Tribune, June 3,2011.40 Id.41 Id.42Kazran Deposition, p. 34.4[Image] [Image] [Image] (function() { var pageParams = {"origHeight": 1167, "origWidth": 902, "fonts": [2, 4, 0, 3], "pageNum": 4}; // page.uuid : 9lz0fkya2o14rg6t // page.page_request.cdn_path('html') : // page.page_name : 4-f98a1ce146 // 'request_host': genserve pageParams.containerElem = document.getElementById("outer_page_4"); pageParams.contentUrl = ""; var page = docManager.addPage(pageParams); })();

between Rep. Buchanan, Mr. Kazran, and their companies.43According to Mr. Kazran, duringthe course of this dispute Rep. Buchanan agreed to pay Mr. Kazran $2.9 million for the damageto the company caused by the alleged embezzlement and to buy out Mr. Kazran’s share of a Kiadealership they were in the process of buying.44Rep. Buchanan sent Mr. Kazran a “ConfidentialSettlement Communication,” signed by Rep. Buchanan and his company’s chief executiveofficer, John Tosch, laying out the terms of the settlement.45The exact date Rep. Buchanan sentthe settlementcommunication to Mr. Kazran is unclear, but an exhibit attached to it was datedOctober 2008.46 One term of the agreement was that Mr. Kazran would execute an attached affidavitattesting – under penaltyof perjury – that Rep. Buchanan had no involvement in or knowledge of the contribution scheme.47The affidavit provides that during “somewhat hostile” negotiationsbetween Mr. Kazran and Rep. Buchanan’s representatives, Mr. Kazran told one of Rep.Buchanan’s representatives one or more of the dealerships of which Mr. Kazran had operationalcontrol reimbursed individuals for contributions to the Buchanan campaign.48The affidavitstates:5. Before September, 2008 neither I, nor to my knowledge,any other person who had ever advised Buchanan or any of his representatives had any information that one or both of the dealerships [of which Mr. Kazran was the person incharge] reimbursed certain individuals for contributionsmade to the Vernon G. Buchanan for Congress campaign.6. Since my relationship with Buchanan first commenced, Iattended various meetings of other general managers or“partners” of Buchanan who were involved in otherdealerships in which Buchanan, or companies controlled byhim, had a direct or indirect ownership interest. At no timewas there any statement or any form of encouragement tomake a campaign contribution based upon a threat of jobdiscrimination, financial reprisal, or other detriment forfailure to make a contribution discussed, disseminated orsuggested by Buchanan, a Buchanan representative oranyone under his or their direction. Furthermore, therenever was a discussion, statement or other action whichwould have implied that a person who made a contributionto the Vernon G. Buchanan for Congress campaign would43Rep. Buchanan Sues Ex-Partner,Sarasota Herald-Tribune, September 26, 2008.

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