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A Pennsylvania landfill company has agreed to pay a record-setting $8 million fine for illegal campaign contributions to 10 politicians, including Rep. Bill Paxon, R-Amherst.

The U.S. attorney in Harrisburg, Pa., announced this week that Empire Sanitary Landfill Inc. of Scranton had agreed to pay the fine, which is the largest penalty ever assessed for a campaign finance violation. In addition, six individuals linked to the company are likely to face trial on felony charges that they arranged $129,000 in illegal contributions.

Paxon received $1,000 in January 1996. It was the last and the smallest illegal donation the company made.

The largest beneficiary of the illegal gifts was the 1996 Bob Dole presidential campaign, which received $80,000. The Clinton/Gore campaign got $10,000.

U.S. Attorney David M. Barasch said it appears that Paxon and the other candidates had no way of knowing that the contributions were illegal.

According to the 140-count indictment, the company developed a scheme to hide the fact that it was breaking the federal law that prohibits corporations from contributing to federal campaigns.

The indictment charges that between 1994 and early 1996, top company executives and two associates asked company employees, business associates and family members to contribute to federal candidates. The company allegedly then reimbursed them.

At the time, the company was interested in a bill before Congress that aimed to regulate the interstate hauling of trash. Paxon is a senior member of the House Commerce Committee that had jurisdiction over the bill.

The indictment stems from an investigation by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service following newspaper stories about the suspicious donations.

Facing federal felony charges are former Empire President Renato P. Mariani, former assistant secretary Michael Sarafini, former comptroller Leo R. Del Serra and former operations manager Alan W. Stephens.

They are charged with conspiracy, making false statements and violating federal election law. They face several years in prison and hundreds of thousands in fines if convicted.

In addition, Pennsylvania State Rep. Frank Serafini and Robert Giglio, a plumbing contractor who worked with Empire, face federal perjury charges for allegedly telling a grand jury that they had not been reimbursed for their contributions when in fact they had. Those charges are punishable by up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

In addition to Paxon, Dole and Clinton, other federal candidates who received illegal contributions include Sens. Arlen Spector ($10,000) and Rick Santorum ($6,000), both R-Pa.; Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana ($1,000); Reps. Jon Fox, R-Pa. ($3,000), and Frank Pallone, D-N.J. ($3,000); and two unsuccessful Republican Senate candidates from New Jersey, Chuck Haytaian ($10,000) and Richard DuHaime ($5,000).

Paxon's press secretary, Chris Downing, could not be reached.

Kent Cooper, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, said Paxon and the other candidates should double-check to make sure their contributions are proper.

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