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Ex-Chabot aide pleads guilty to stealing $1.4M from campaign

Updated: May. 28, 2021 at 11:46 AM EDT
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A former campaign manager for Rep. Steve Chabot pleaded guilty Friday to stealing $1.4 million from the congressman’s campaign and agreed to pay it back minus $13,000 already recovered.

James Schwartz II, 41, spoke calmly and politely to U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black during his plea hearing: “Guilty, Your Honor.”

Schwartz was federally charged last month and pleaded guilty on Friday to wire fraud and falsification of records related to the embezzlement.

He faced up to 20 years in prison.

But now, in light of the plea, federal authorities will recommend he not serve more than 32 months, though the ultimate decision lies with the judge, Black explained in court Friday.

A sentencing date has not been set, and Schwartz will remain free on his own recognizance.

He was ordered to surrender his passport and not obtain another one.

The judge said he was ordering a presentencing investigation to assist him in deciding Schwartz’s sentence.

Schwartz agreed to a monthly payment plan for restitution.

The judge said he will set the monthly payment plan agreement.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio said in a statement when they charged Schwartz last month he already had entered a plea agreement that would be considered by the court.

Schwartz worked as a consultant on behalf of the Chabot campaign through his companies, Fountain Square Group LLC and Prime Media LLC, from 2011 through 2019, and also served as de facto treasurer for the campaign, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In September of 2019, an attorney for Chabot’s campaign, Mark Braden, told FOX19 NOW the campaign appeared to be the victim of a financial crime, and campaign finances were undergoing a “thorough audit.”

Schwartz wrote checks from the campaign to himself and his companies for more than was actually earned, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Schwartz covering up the embezzlement by misrepresenting the actual amount he and the companies made in reports to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), federal authorities say.

It’s also alleged that Schwartz fabricated bank statements and other documents in submissions to the FEC in order to conceal the embezzling.

Schwartz voluntarily turned himself in to the federal authorities in 2019, Schwartz’s attorney Kevin Tierney said in court Friday and cooperated with the investigation.

As part of his scheme, he misrepresented his own father as the treasurer for the campaign, federal officials allege.

Schwartz’s father, an occasional volunteer with Chabot’s campaign, had no idea he was listed as the treasurer in federal election finance records until he read it in media reports, according to a statement to FOX19 NOW he issued through his attorney Monday.

“I am not now, nor have I ever been, the treasurer of the Steve Chabot for Congress campaign,” said James Schwartz Sr. of Bridgetown in the statement to FOX19 NOW in September 2019.

“I have never served the campaign in any official capacity, including as treasurer, at any time. I played no role in the campaign other than as an occasional volunteer. I had no knowledge of the use of my name on any campaign documents or filings until recent reports.”

Online records show he was listed as treasurer 2011 through 2019.

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Copyright 2021 WXIX. All rights reserved. Cincinnati Enquirer contributed to this report.