SARASOTA, Fla. -- May 9 is "D-Day" for Sarasota Congressman Vern Buchanan. That's the day he finds out if the U.S. House of Representatives Ethics Committee will pursue charges against him.
Although the wealthy Republican dodged a bullet on charges he violated federal election laws, regardless of what the Ethics Committee decides, Buchanan faces other severe legal problems.
"We're talking about thousands of fraudulent transactions, thousands," said consumer advocate Duane Overholt.
It's not exactly a glowing endorsement, especially when you're talking about a U.S. representative. Overholt is talking about the car dealerships owned by Buchanan. "How many people would conceive that a U.S. congressman who took an oath to protect the consumer, his voters, would break the law? Well, he had according to the whistle blowers and, according to the documents, he has?"
Overholt has compiled thousands of documents, complaints, and lawsuits filed by former employees and customers. Some of the lawsuits have been settled out of court and some are working their way through the system. Buchanan denies any wrongdoing.
Jeff Sutton is one of those consumers. "They destroyed my credit," he said.
Sutton says he was a Buchanan victim when he bought a Dodge Caravan from one of the congressman's dealerships. The loan he was promised wouldn't fly with the bank, so he maintains the dealership forged his signature on a different loan with a higher rate.
"You're very angry, you feel like you've been violated. It's just not a simple problem," said Sutton.
Whistleblowers say forging documents was no big deal at the congressman's dealership. Managers, partners, and financial employees have all testified in depositions and alleged in various lawsuits that Buchanan's dealership not only forged signatures, but falsified information on credit applications, falsely reported cars sold to the manufacturer to get rebates for cars that were still on the lot, and solicited illegal campaign contributions.
Robert Stok is an attorney and represents Buchanan's ex-partner. "If there was wrongdoing, he was captain of the ship. He had to own up to what was going on in his company even if it was behind his back, but it was out in front of his face. It was not only in front of his face, it was at his direction, control, and command," he said.
Then there are tax evasion issues. Buchanan's chief financial officer, Sal Rosa, who is working with the IRS, has testified in depositions that the congressman is guilty of an evasion of U.S. income tax and a conspiracy to evade U.S. income tax.
We tried to ask the congressman about the lawsuits and depositions, but he wouldn't stop long enough to talk to us, saying he was on the way to a meeting. He told us to call someone on his staff as he stepped into a waiting black SUV.
While Buchanan didn't want to talk to us about the House ethics hearings, sources tell us he is also being investigated by a federal grand jury and the FBI. Even if he is cleared by the ethics investigation, the Sarasota congressman faces serious legal and possibly criminal issues.
"I've offered to meet with the Republicans and show them exactly the disc I showed you. They call me a nut case," said Overholt. "But don't take my word for it, don't take the whistleblower, don't take any of them. Look at the documents. They speak for themselves."