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No Charges In Case That Roiled ’08 Senate Race

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(credit: CBS) Pat Kessler
Pat Kessler knows Minnesota politics. He's been on the beat long...
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Federal prosecutors have decided not to charge a Minnesota businessman or former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman in a case stemming from a civil lawsuit alleging that the man tried to funnel $75,000 to Coleman, a former FBI director hired by the executive said Tuesday.

The lawsuit had roiled Minnesota’s tight 2008 U.S. Senate race in the final week of the campaign. In it, a former executive at one of Nasser Kazeminy’s companies accused him of ordering payments to an insurance company that employed Coleman’s wife. Kazeminy denied it. Coleman and his wife weren’t defendants in the lawsuit, which was dismissed in 2009.

Washington attorney Louis Freeh, a former head of the FBI, said Kazeminy hired him after the allegations surfaced. Freeh said he agreed to investigate on the condition that Kazeminy and his employees give full cooperation to federal authorities as well as his own firm’s former FBI agents and federal prosecutors. Freeh said they found that all the accusations were baseless.

“We concluded that there was no wrongdoing or impropriety or corrupt dealings between Mr. Kazeminy and Senator Coleman,” Freeh told The Associated Press ahead of a news conference.

Freeh said he learned the Justice Department closed its investigation in a Feb. 24 meeting with Andrew Levchuk of the department’s Public Integrity Section in Washington. He said he didn’t know precisely what prosecutors and the FBI concluded, but “we understand it was thorough, it was comprehensive, it looked — we believe — at every single possibility of wrongdoing.”

The U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota does not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, spokeswoman Jeanne Cooney said.

Freeh and Robert Weinstine, Kazeminy’s local attorney, said they didn’t announce the findings sooner because a related bankruptcy case in Texas wasn’t fully resolved until Monday, and that both Kazeminy and Coleman were wary of airing the allegations again.

“Both of these individuals, as you can image, have suffered a grave amount of harm and embarrassment, having to explain to their families and friends that they were not dishonest, they were not engaged in a corrupt relationship,” Freeh said.

Neither Kazeminy nor Coleman appeared at the news conference, but both issued statements saying they had been vindicated.

“We know today what we knew in 2008 to be true: A disgruntled businessman in Texas lied to extort money,” Coleman said.

“Tomorrow we begin the difficult task of rebuilding our good names and reputations,” Kazeminy said.

Freeh, who led the FBI from 1993-2001, acknowledged that people might be skeptical about an investigation Kazeminy paid for, as well as another commissioned by the board of a company he controlled that also concluded the allegations were false. But Freeh said the decisions by the local U.S. attorney’s office, FBI and Justice officials in Washington lend their findings credibility.

“I pride myself in conducting fair and independent investigations,” Freeh said. “My practice and my reputation depend on my ability and my strong desire to conduct fair investigations. I think I did that.”

Coleman, a Republican, lost to Democrat Al Franken by 312 votes. He now works for a Washington law firm and chairs the American Action Network, which pumped millions of dollars into congressional races last fall to aid Republicans.

Freeh said he found no evidence the Franken campaign had anything to with the allegations, and said he didn’t look for any.

The allegations in the lawsuit came from Paul McKim, who had been chief executive of Houston-based Deep Marine Holdings Inc., in which Kazeminy was a shareholder. McKim accused Kazeminy — a longtime friend and donor to Coleman — of ordering $75,000 in improper payments to insurer Hays Cos., which still employs Coleman’s wife, Laurie.

Kazeminy denied any wrongdoing at the time, as did the Colemans.

Freeh said Laurie Coleman had nothing to do with the insurance coverage Hays Cos. sold to Deep Marine.

Freeh said both his and the Deep Marine board’s investigations concluded McKim made false claims in an attempt to force a larger severance package out of Deep Marine.

McKim’s attorney, Casey Wallace, said McKim never alleged wrongdoing by Coleman but stands by his claims against Kazeminy. “The allegations he made in his lawsuit are absolutely true,” Wallace said.

Freeh acknowledged Coleman received about $100,000 worth of gifts from Kazeminy while he was in the Senate and earlier when he was mayor of St. Paul. Those included flights to Florida on Kazeminy’s private plane, which he said Coleman reported as required to the Senate, as well as one or two suits when Coleman was mayor, which he was not required to report. Kazeminy did not get any official favors in return, he said.

Weinstine didn’t rule out future litigation against McKim.

“Any and all other remedies or rights that the Kazeminys have are under very active consideration now,” Weinstine said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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