CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Ohio Congressman Steve Chabot’s campaign appears to be the victim of a financial crime, its attorney announced Wednesday.
Mark Braden, attorney for Chabot for Congress, says the veteran West Side politician was informed Tuesday afternoon that his campaign committee may be the victim of “financial malfeasance and misappropriation of funds."
“Congressman Chabot was shocked and deeply disappointed to be informed yesterday afternoon that his campaign committee may be the victim of financial malfeasance and misappropriation of funds. Unfortunately, the misappropriation of funds by some campaign treasurers has been far too common an occurrence over the years,” the statement reads.
“Chabot for Congress is prepared to fully cooperate and assist both law enforcement and the Federal Election Commission to ensure that those responsible are held to account and to correct any inaccurate filings about the campaign’s finances as quickly as possible if any occurred. The campaign will refrain from further public comment until this matter is concluded.”
This comes after the Federal Election Commission sent Chabot’s campaign treasurer a letter late last month seeking details about an amended campaign finance report showing an increase of receipts totaling more than $100,000.
The Aug. 27 letter to the campaign’s treasurer, Jim Schwartz, from the FEC noted that an amended report filed by Chabot’s campaign showed a $123,625.72 increase and asked Schwartz to clarify why the money wasn’t originally disclosed.
A response is due Oct. 1.
“Failure to adequately respond by the response date noted above could result in an audit or enforcement action,” the letter states.
The Federal Election Commission can’t comment on any kinds of investigations as a matter of standard practice, FEC spokesman Miles Martin tells FOX19 NOW.
The FEC has not received any response yet from Chabot’s campaign, he said.
Braden’s statement does not mention FEC letter to the campaign treasurer or the amount of money involved.
The campaign’s lawyer’s statement was released to us at 5:18 p.m. Wednesday after FOX19 NOW reached out to Chabot’s office and spokesman for comment Tuesday and again Wednesday.
State and national Republican party leaders did not responded to requests for comment Tuesday and Wednesday.
A spokesman for the FBI Cincinnati told us Tuesday as a matter of policy they cannot confirm or deny the existence of potential investigation.
We reached out to the FBI again Wednesday night in light of the statement from the campaign’s lawyer and were told their comment was unchanged.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio did not respond to requests for comment this week.
The leader of Hamilton County’s Republican Party, Chairman Alex Triantafilou, declined comment Tuesday.
After we reached out to him for comment Wednesday in light of the statement from Chabot’s campaign, he released a statement on Twitter.
“This unfortunate and shocking development will never deter Congressman Chabot and Republicans from advancing our important agenda," he wrote.
Jim Schwartz, listed on other campaign paperwork as James Schwartz Sr., is the father of Chabot’s campaign manager since 2009, Jamie Schwartz, president of Fountain Square Group, a political strategy consulting firm.
That company abruptly shut this week and its Facebook page was taken down Wednesday morning.
Jim Schwartz could not be reached for comment.
Jamie Schwartz also could not be reached. His cell phone has been disconnected since at least Tuesday.
Fountain Square Group was widely used several Republican campaigns such as Hamilton County Commission hopeful Andy Black and Matthew Wahlert, candidate for Colerain Township trustee.
One employee, Katie Streicher Metz, said in email Tuesday night to county GOP activists she has left the company “after being made aware of an issue with the Fountain Square Group.”
“I wanted to write you tonight to let you know that after being made aware of an issue with the Fountain Square Group, I’ve resigned my position with the company,” she wrote in the email, obtained by FOX19 NOW. "You will likely hear more about this in the days to come, but I wanted to be sure you heard from me first.
“I truly appreciate your commitment to our Republican candidates and have been grateful to work with you over the years. I remain committed to helping elect strong, conservative candidates to public office and hope to have an opportunity to partner with you in the future. I will be following up in the coming weeks, but please don’t hesitate to reach out to me in the meantime if you’d like.”
Wahlert said when news broke of the possible financial irregularities earlier this week, he "immediately severed my relationship with Fountain Square Group retroactive to last day of August."
“I will continue to run a positive campaign for the people of Colerain Township.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a new statement Friday regarding what they’re calling Chabot’s campaign finance irregularities:
"Today in Cincinnati, Southwest Ohio leaders are raising serious questions about the culture of corruption Congressman Steve Chabot has surrounded himself with and shedding new light on Chabot’s years and years of campaign finance irregularities.
Since 2013, authorities at the Federal Election Commission have sent 21 different letters to Congressman Chabot’s campaign – including the August 27, 2019 FEC correspondence triggering Chabot’s latest scandal.
Meanwhile, Jim and Jamie Schwartz – the father and son duo quickly emerging at the center of the scandal roiling Southwest Ohio’s political scene – have deep, longstanding and well-known ties to Chabot’s campaign. So deep that Chabot’s lawyers, in an attempt to distance themselves, referred to the elder Schwartz merely as a nameless “campaign treasurer.” Huh?
Even more curious is the rushed attempt made by Chabot’s lawyers to pre-emptively claim victimhood on the part of the embattled congressman, raising obvious questions Congressman Chabot must answer about what he knew and when he knew it.
“Congressman Chabot’s newest scandal is just the latest example of the malfeasance and corruption that Chabot surrounds his office with wherever he goes,” DCCC spokesman Avery Jaffe said. “Here’s a simple question for Steve Chabot’s lawyers: What did Congressman Chabot know and when did he know it?”
Below, please find 21 instances since 2013 of the FEC flagging campaign finance irregularities by Steve Chabot’s campaign:
1. RFAI: April Quarterly 2019 – Filed 8/27/19
2. RFAI: Post-General 2018 – Filed 12/18/18
3. RFAI: Pre-General 2018 – Filed 12/11/18
4. RFAI: October Quarterly 2018 – Filed 12/11/18
5. RFAI: July Quarterly 2018 – Filed 8/19/18
6. RFAI: April Quarterly 2018 – Filed 5/31/18
7. RFAI: Year End 2017 – Filed 7/29/18
8. RFAI: October Quarterly 2017 – Filed 11/5/17
9. RFAI: July Quarterly 2017 – Filed 8/3/17
10. RFAI: April Quarterly 2017 – Filed 6/11/17
11. RFAI: Post-General 2016 – Filed 2/14/17
12. RFAI: October Quarterly 2016 – Filed 11/24/16
13. RFAI: July Quarterly 2016 – Filed 8/21/16
14. RFAI: April Quarterly 2016 – Filed 4/26/16
15. RFAI: July Quarterly 2015 – Filed 8/5/15
16. RFAI: April Quarterly 2015 – Filed 5/14/15
17. RFAI: Post-General 2014 – Filed 1/6/15
18. RFAI: April Quarterly 2014 – Filed 5/28/14
19. RFAI: Year-End 2013 – Filed 3/11/14
20. RFAI: October Quarterly 2013 – Filed 12/3/13
21. RFAI: July Quarterly 2013 – Filed 8/9/13″
Hamilton County GOP Chairman Alex M. Triantafilou released a statement regarding the DCCC’s comments:
"For David Pepper and State Democrats to attack the victim of a crime for the sake of politics is disgraceful. The Chabot campaign promptly notified the public and began cooperating with authorities immediately when they learned of this incident, doing exactly what we would expect from an elected leader with integrity. For Democratic Party leaders to claim anything otherwise is a deliberate attempt to mislead the public and they should be ashamed. The Democrats in this state have regularly failed at the ballot box and are attacking Steve Chabot out of desperation.”
FOX19 NOW forwarded their statement to representatives for Chabot and continue to seek comment from him.
We will update our coverage if we hear back.