What did Josh Mandel do while he was out of the public eye for three years? Made big money

Laura A. Bischoff Haley BeMiller
The Columbus Dispatch
Mandel continues to press the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

Three-and-a-half years ago, Republican Josh Mandel abruptly dropped out of politics, citing an urgent need to attend to his ailing wife.

While out of the public eye, Mandel cashed in on his connections — landing spots on corporate boards and joining startups — and ended his 12-year marriage to Ilana Shafran Mandel

On his recently filed Senate financial disclosure statement, Mandel, 43, reported $839,571 in income from Jan. 1, 2020 to May 15, 2021, plus another $205,413 windfall when he cashed out the pension he received as a public employee. 

The private sector gigs paid handsomely:

  • $287,196 from Athene Co-Invest Reinsurance Affiliate 1A Ltd. in Bermuda,
  • $250,000 from Lonestar Generation LLC in Princeton, N.J.,
  • $150,000 from Legal Business Services LLC,
  • $68,000 from Dayton-based payday lender Schear Financial Services,
  • $42,000 from Hawkeye Capital Management in Miami Beach,
  • $29,875 from Capital Community Bank in Provo, Utah and
  • $12,500 from LiftCamp Inc., a startup Mandel helped found.

The funds pale in comparison to the millions earned by some of Mandel's opponents in the crowded race for U.S. Senate. Still, the disclosure offered a window into the business dealings of a man accustomed to public life who suddenly — and quietly — started to make his way in the private sector. 

But Mandel contends he's not leveraging the connections he made as treasurer and instead took advantage of search firms and personal relationships to land the gigs.

"Josh’s grandfather Joe worked in a factory making plumbing parts and his grandmother Fernanda worked at a drug store stocking shelves," campaign manager Scott Guthrie said in an email. "Both instilled in Josh the importance of hard work, sweat and love of America."

More:Josh Mandel's staff quit campaign because of toxic work environment created by staffer in relationship with Mandel, sources say

Mandel made money off payday lender, hedge fund

So, what are the entities that paid Mandel more than $800,000?

Schear Financial, based near Dayton, is owned by Lee Schear. Schear and his wife have donated $322,116 to political candidates and the Ohio Republican Party since 2015. The couple gave a combined $21,800 to Team Josh, Mandel's PAC, this year. Schear started as a grocer and expanded into payday lending in the 1980s. 

Mandel has a history of campaign support from the payday lending industry. In 2012, The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Mandel flew to the Bahamas for a fundraiser with payday lenders, bringing in at least $67,000 to his U.S. Senate campaign from the event.

Athene, which provides retirement financial services, was founded in 2009 and now has more than $212 billion in assets. It is based in Bermuda. It announced in March that it is merging with Apollo Global Management, a private equity giant. In federal Securities and Exchange Commission disclosures, Athene listed Mandel as a board member for a subsidiary through 2024.

Legal Business Services has three subsidiaries that loan money to people who are injured to help them pay the bills while awaiting a legal settlement. It's part of a settlement advance industry that has been hit with lawsuits for charging predatory rates and fees. In 2018, an LBS subsidiary, LawCash, and another lawsuit lender were ordered to pay $2.3 million in fines to settle a lawsuit brought against them by the Colorado attorney general.

Hawkeye Capital Management is a hedge fund based in Miami Beach. It oversees more than $1 billion, employs nine and was founded in 1999 by Rich Rubin, who has contributed to Mandel's past campaigns.

Lonestar Generation LLC is an electric utility that holds 100% of the equity in Frontera Holdings, which filed for bankruptcy reorganization in February 2021. 

Capital Community Bank is based in Utah. Lauren Saunders of the National Consumer Law Center told the House Financial Services Committee in February that Capital Community Bank is among a handful of institutions running Rent-a-Bank schemes that trap consumers into high-cost installment loans. ChoiceCash Title Loans partners with Capital Community Bank to issue loans in multiple states, including Ohio.

State Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, who sponsored Ohio's 2018 payday lending reform bill, took Mandel to task for working closely with that industry.

State Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, sponsored a payday lending industry reform bill that became law three years ago. He criticized former state treasurer Josh Mandel for taking lucrative advisory and director jobs within the industry.

"It sickens me to think that just months after the Ohio Fairness in Lending Act went into effect, Josh Mandel ran from his office as state treasurer to work for payday lenders who had been exploiting Ohioans," Koehler said. "It looks like former treasurer Mandel padded his bank account with thousands of dollars in profits from payday and title lenders who snared Ohioans into debt traps."

Stint in private sector

After leaving the treasurer's office in early 2019, Mandel scooped up three private sector jobs — one as a chief financial officer, one in a startup that never got off the ground and a third with a new startup based in his hometown of Beachwood.

Boxbees Technologies, Inc., a startup that aimed to work on the problem of surplus packaging, according to the Mandel campaign. The firm was incorporated in the state of Delaware in early 2020 but has no presence on the web. In registration paperwork filed with the Ohio secretary of state, Mandel is listed as chief executive. (The filing is notarized by his father, Bruce Mandel, who is an attorney.) Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Boxbees never took off.

LiftCamp, Inc., is a startup that focuses on optimizing online digital advertising, according to the Mandel campaign. Mandel reported receiving $12,500 in salary from LiftCamp between January 2020 and May 2021.

Starting in April 2019, Mandel served as the chief financial officer for Compound Asset Management, a crowdfunding platform for real estate investment. The New York-based company was later purchased in June 2020 by Republic Compound LLC. Mandel did not list Compound as a source of income for January 2020 through May 2021.

Back in familiar territory

Now, Mandel is back in the political arena and running an aggressive campaign as he seeks to stand out among the crowded GOP field for U.S. Senate in 2022.

Almost all of Mandel's career has been in the public sector as a Marine, city councilman, state lawmaker and state treasurer. Between 2005 and 2008, he listed himself as president of The Groveland Company LLC on his state ethics disclosures but it is unclear what that company did.

Up until his three-year break that started in January 2018, Mandel followed a tight timeline to achieve his political ambitions. After serving on the Lyndhurst City Council, Mandel ran for the Ohio House in 2006 and served two terms before running for state treasurer in 2010. Just months after being sworn in as treasurer, Mandel announced his run for U.S. Senate. He lost to Democrat Sherrod Brown in 2012 and ran for reelection as state treasurer.

Mandel spent $1.8 million in taxpayer money running TV ads to promote a new savings program for families who have children with disabilities. Mandel starred in the ads along side Ohio State Football coach Urban Meyer and a young woman with Down Syndrome. Then he announced he'd run against Brown again, only to make his sudden disappearance.

More:Who is running for Ohio's U.S. Senate seat to replace Rob Portman?

In the current race, Mandel is painting himself as a Trump-loving populist who wants to disrupt the status quo — a refrain being sung by most Republicans who want to replace Sen. Rob Portman. For him, that means bouncing between Ohio churches to speak with supporters and using social media to tear down his opponents and toss red meat to his base.

"While other candidates in this race prefer Silicon Valley or the halls of Harvard," Guthrie said, "Josh plans on blowing up the swamp and being the worst nightmare to those Never-Trumper cocktail party elitists."

Laura Bischoff and Haley BeMiller are reporters for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.