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Four Goshen School Board members criminally charged with campaign finance violations

Nine of the ten candidates for Goshen School Board participated in the Oct. 20 forum, which was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Elkhart County.
Jakob Lazzaro
Goshen School board candidates at a forum on Oct. 20, 2022. Andrea Johnson sits in the first row on the far right. Mario Garber sits in the front row, second from the left. Jose Elizalde sits in the back row on the far left.

A simple campaign mailer for the 2022 Goshen School Board races has this week resulted in criminal charges against five candidates in that race.

The mailer endorsed Jose Elizalde, Mario Garber, Roger Nafziger and Andrea Johnson in the general election and denigrated an opposing slate of candidates who were backed by the far right group Purple for Parents.

The candidates all listed current Goshen school board member and former Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman as the source of the money to pay for the mailer. However, election officials and the prosecutors believe the money was raised by a group of around 30 individuals who gave the money to Kauffman, who then donated the funds to the individual campaigns.

All four candidates and Kauffman were fined by the election board last year, but now they face felony criminal charges for not disclosing the names of their donors. All five face a felony count of submitting a fraudulent campaign finance form and at least one misdemeanor count of knowingly accepting a contribution made by one person in the name of another.

Nafziger and Elizalde declined to comment on the charges, while Garber, Johnson and Kauffman did not immediately respond to interview requests from WVPE.

A spokeswoman for the Goshen School district also declined to comment.

Though the criminal charges were filed this week, all five were previously found to have violated state code and fined by the Elkhart County Election Board.

In testimony before the election board last spring, Kauffman laid out the situation where he was approached during the 2022 race by a retired teacher who was very concerned about school board candidates Rob Roeder, Ryan Glick and Linda Hartman.

Those three candidates had all been endorsed by the far right group Purple for Parents, which has advocated to ban books from school libraries, claims that Marxist doctrine is being taught in schools and is opposed to protections for transgender individuals.

Kauffman told the election board the former teacher, Sue Neeb, raised over $11,000 from a group of around 30 people and gave that money to Kauffman, who then gave it to the candidates running for school board that year to pay for the mailer. Kauffman said Neeb and others feared harassment and retaliation that would come with making donations against the Purple For Parents backed candidates.

Court documents say the candidates were aware of social media posts from Kauffman saying the money was raised by a variety of different people but signed on campaign finance forms that all the money came from Kauffman.

Neeb was fined $2,000 by the election board but she has not been criminally charged. Altogether, over 30 people were fined by the election board in connection to the mailer.

Nafziger, Elizalde and Garber all went on to win their races for the school board, while Glick defeated Johnson in the 1st District.

The board members face a maximum sentence of 2 ½ years if convicted on the felony charge, however most nonviolent, low-level felony charges don’t result in jail time.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.