FBI agents are investigating accusations that a Minnesota-based insurance company that employs the wife of Sen. Norm Coleman sent invoices last year to a Texas firm seeking $75,000 for work that, according to two pending lawsuits, was never performed and secretly was intended for the Minnesota Republican.
According to law enforcement authorities, FBI agents have talked with or sought to interview a number of would-be witnesses in Texas, although the bureau has formally declined to comment on the case.
The payment requests by the Hays Cos. Inc. in Minneapolis are contained in invoices included as part of separate lawsuits filed in October in Texas and Delaware.
The lawsuits say the payments were sent to Hays in 2007 by Deep Marine Technology Inc., a Texas undersea service provider to the oil and gas industry, on the orders of DMT's controlling stockholder, Nasser J. Kazeminy, chairman of Minnesota-based NJK Holding Corp. and longtime Coleman friend and financial supporter.
Three $25,000 payments were arranged "because the senator needs the money" and were sent to Hays disguised as "service fees" because Laurie Coleman worked there, according to the lawsuits.
Mr. Kazeminy, a native of Iran, has contributed more than $930,000 to Republicans and their campaign committees since 1998, including $72,000 he and his wife, Yvonne, donated to Mr. Coleman, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The Nov. 4 senatorial contest between Mr. Coleman and comedian Al Franken remains undecided while the state awaits results of a hand recount.
Mr. Coleman has said he would welcome an investigation by either the FBI or the Senate Ethics Committee, but was "eager to have it move forward immediately." He denied any wrongdoing, saying the accusations were an attempt to "besmirch my family's good name and reputation."
Neither suit claims any wrongdoing by Mr. Coleman or establishes that he ever received any of the money.
Through his attorney, Amy Rotenberg, Mr. Kazeminy also denied the accusations: "It is his hope that when all inquiry is completed, the facts are known, and the lawsuit eventually dismissed, the truth will be as prominently reported as have been these false claims."
According to records, the Coleman payments were sought on invoices mailed by Hays to DMT in May, June and September 2007. The invoices listed an overnight delivery address and an account number for wire transfers.
Hays Executive Vice President Michael Prins was named in the documents as the "producer," or the broker. Mr. Prins has contributed more than $27,000 to Republicans since 2000, including $4,500 to Mr. Coleman, according to FEC records. James C. Hays, the insurance company's founder, donated $15,850 to Mr. Coleman and his campaign committees since 2002, according to FEC records.
In a statement, the firm called the accusations "libelous and defamatory." It said the payments went for risk-management consulting services and denied any of it went to Mrs. Coleman, whom the company described as an independent contractor.
The Colemans have declined to release information showing Mrs. Coleman's earnings at Hays or any documents listing her duties.
The pending suits, one in U.S. District Court in Houston by Paul McKim, former chief executive officer at DMT, and the other in the Court of Chancery in Wilmington, Del., by DMT shareholders, said Mr. Kazeminy ordered DMT corporate funds to be used to "financially assist" Mr. Coleman.
The Delaware suit said Mr. Kazeminy told Mr. McKim and DMT Chief Financial Officer B.J. Thomas to send quarterly payments of $25,000 to Mr. Coleman. It said there was no valid business reason for a payment to Hays of any amount; that Hays provided no services of any type to DMT.