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Some debt owed to big names
Around that time, Sutton started Winning Strategies, which he touted as a political strategy and grass-roots advocacy firm. According to the bankruptcy filing, Winning Strategies has no assets and is largely “a fiscal conduit” for accepting state government money from a nonprofit organization to help care for the Suttons’ autistic son.
According to the bankruptcy filing, the Suttons owe $51,000 more on their Inver Grove Heights home than its current assessed value. Included in that is a second mortgage for $80,000 that they then loaned to Sutton Enterprises, one of 16 businesses registered at their home address.
The Suttons are now in the midst of divorce proceedings.
The Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing means the Suttons will ask the court to discharge all or most of their unsecured debt — some of it owed to well-known names in Republican circles.
The Suttons owe more than $460,000 to Cooper State Bank in Ohio, a bank founded by Cooper. According to the Aug. 23 filing, the Suttons signed a loan guarantee with Cooper’s bank and absorbed the debt into their personal finances.
They owe $31,000 to Elam Baer, a GOP donor and strategist and a major backer of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Tony Trimble, a prominent GOP attorney who represented the party during the 2010 gubernatorial recount, is owed $20,000.
Cooper and Baer could not be reached for reaction. Trimble declined to comment.
Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, a gubernatorial candidate who ran against Sutton for party chairman in 2009, said he would not comment on Sutton’s financial troubles.
“There are Democrats, Republicans, independents, Libertarians and Green Party members that as individuals don’t take care of their financial responsibilities,” Thompson said.
Ben Golnik, a longtime GOP strategist and former executive director of the state party, called Sutton’s problems “inside baseball” that would matter little in the coming election cycle.
“We are already two chairmen beyond that now,” Golnik said. “We are looking forward now, and not at the personal, business dealings of someone in the past.”
Those who worked closely with Sutton at the GOP office paint him as a visionary who sometimes lacked the ability to make an honest assessment of the political or financial landscape.
“Tony had an image of himself as a business guy like Bill Cooper — he could be in their financial shoes if he hadn’t gone into politics,” said former state GOP spokesman Craig Westover. “I think that clouded his judgment; I think he’d rather be decisive than make the best decision.”
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