The Bradenton Herald is reporting that the federal Department of Justice has launched an investigation into Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota. Buchanan has long been plagued with rumors that he violated campaign finance laws, but a former business partner and a car dealership the two once co-owned, however, took the brunt of those claims — eventually being fined nearly $68,000 for what the FEC called an “extensive and ongoing scheme.”

Though the Department of Justice will not confirm or deny the investigation, Buchanan’s camp discussed the investigation in a statement made to the Herald.

“It has always been our expectation that the Justice Department would review the Federal Election Commission’s findings,” said Buchanan’s office. “The FEC carefully reviewed these politically motivated charges and concluded, based upon the factual record, that Vern did nothing wrong. We are confident that the Justice Department will reach the same conclusion and look forward to cooperating fully.”

As extensively reported by The Florida Independent, the FEC initially filed suit against Sam Kazran (a former business partner of Buchanan’s) and Hyundai of North Jacksonville (an almost completely dissolved car dealership once co-owned by the two men) in December 2010, for allegedly reimbursing employees who donated to Buchanan’s 2006 and 2008 congressional campaigns, in violation of two campaign laws. Buchanan has long disputed the claims, attempting to paint Kazran as a disgruntled former business partner with a “checkered past.”

The Herald reports that Buchanan’s lawyers are asking the Department of Justice to investigate what they say is an attempted blackmail by Kazran.

Via the Herald:

Bill McGinley, a Washington lawyer representing Buchanan, told the Bradenton Herald that not only does he expect the Justice Department to clear Buchanan, he expects the investigation will find that “Congressman Buchanan is a victim.”

Kazran has long maintained that he is the victim — a self-described “regular joe” who had no idea that there was anything wrong with reimbursing employees for donations made to political campaigns.

Kazran says that, around the time the two’s relationship went sour, Buchanan owed him a sizable amount of money, but would only hand over the funds if Kazran signed an affidavit stating that Buchanan had no culpability in the reimbursement scheme. Kazran refused to sign it, a move he says made Buchanan nervous.

The Independent obtained voicemails left by Buchanan on Kazran’s cell phone around the time of the business dispute. In one voicemail, which is over three minutes long, Buchanan references his 2008 campaign, saying:

I think the threatening of political stuff and all that, you’ve got more liability than you know if you start telling people that you reimbursed people, because technically, you have that liability. All I told you, and I’ve always made it clear, is that you can’t reimburse people. … We’re up by 18 points; we’re gonna win the election anyway.

In another voicemail, Buchanan advises Kazran to hire a lawyer.

The Independent has also published the 118-page sworn deposition that Kazran made to the FEC about Buchanan’s role in the reimbursement scheme.

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