Sen. Norm Coleman, already in the political fight of his life, is now facing calls for investigations by the FBI and the Senate ethics committee into allegations that a major fundraiser and longtime friend illegally diverted thousands of dollars to the Minnesota Republican.
The Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a pro-labor group, made the requests in the wake of lawsuits filed separately in Texas and Delaware accusing Nasser J. Kazeminy, a native of Iran and chairman of Minneapolis-based NJK Holding Corp., of improperly channeling $75,000 to Mr. Coleman through a company where the senator’s wife works and of seeking to send at least $25,000 more.
“These are serious allegations. With all of the news media covering these lawsuits, which state that money was funneled to Norm Coleman, we need to know what actually happened,” said Denise Cardinal, the alliance’s executive director. “There should be a thorough, formal investigation.”
Mr. Coleman, awaiting next week’s scheduled recount to determine whether he won re-election over political upstart Democrat Al Franken, said that he would “not only welcome such an investigation, but I am 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.”
“The fact that a United States senator is being used as a tool of extortion by private parties should be of concern to all Minnesotans,” the statement said. “This investigation should move forward, and it is my hope that those who were behind this matter, their motives and what their connections may be to my political opponents be reviewed aggressively by the appropriate authorities and the media.”
Neither the FBI nor the ethics committee would comment.
Of the 2.9 million votes cast in Minnesota on Election Day, Mr. Coleman had a 209-vote lead over Mr. Franken, a comedian. The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a Washington watchdog group, said the two candidates spent more than $35 million - one of the most expensive congressional races ever.
One suit filed in U.S. District Court in Houston by Paul McKim, former chief executive officer at Deep Marine Technology Inc. (DMT), said he was ordered to forward the $75,000 in three separate payments to Hays Cos., an insurance broker in Minneapolis where Laurie Coleman is employed.
Company officials said in the suit, filed Oct. 27, that Mr. Kazeminy, a major DMT stockholder, told them, “U.S. senators don’t make (expletive deleted).”
“In March 2007, Kazeminy began ordering the payment of corporate funds to companies and individuals who tendered no goods or services to DMT for the stated purpose of trying to financially assist U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota,” the suit said. “He was going to find a way to get money to U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and wanted to utilize DMT in the process.”
Another suit filed by DMT shareholders in the Court of Chancery in Wilmington, Del., accused the company’s controlling shareholders of allowing Mr. Kazeminy and others to “exploit and loot the corporation for their own economic benefit or improper purposes” in a scheme to “disguise improper payments in 2007 of at least $75,000 to the wife of a United States senator for no legitimate business purpose.”
That suit said the shareholders were told that Mr. Kazeminy instructed DMT Chief Financial Officer B.J. Thomas and Mr. McKim to send quarterly payments of $25,000 to Mr. Coleman “because the senator needs the money.” When the two men refused, saying the payments would be improper, the suit said, Mr. Kazeminy ordered that the payments be directed instead to the Hays Cos. as “service fees.”
“There was no valid business reason for a payment to Hays of any amount; Hays provided no services of any type to DMT,” the suit said.
Through his attorney and spokeswoman Amy Rotenberg, Mr. Kazeminy vehemently denied the allegations.
“Mr. Kazeminy has always been an exemplary individual and corporate citizen and is deeply offended by these false and reckless claims made by those seeking money,” Mrs. Rotenberg said. “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.”
The Hays Cos., which said it provides risk-management consulting services to DMT, called the accusations “libelous and defamatory,” adding in a statement it intended to “protect our name and our reputation vigorously with whatever means necessary.”
The company said Mrs. Coleman is legally licensed to sell insurance in Minnesota and has been an independent contractor for Hays since 2006.
“We are pleased with her work, and we find any allegations that she accepted money for work she was not responsible for to be outrageous and contemptible,” the company said.
The Delaware suit, filed Nov. 3, said Mr. Thomas, the chief financial officer, was forced to resign and that Mr. McKim later was fired. After Mr. Thomas left the firm, it said, his successor was John Hudgens, who instructed company officials to delete references to the Hays firm in invoices from DMT. It said the order was “an apparent effort to cover up evidence of DMT’s payments to Hays.”
According to the CRP, Mr. Kazeminy has contributed nearly $780,000 to Republican candidates, political action committees and other committees since 1999. He and his wife, Yvonne, have donated more than $115,000 to Mr. Coleman since 2000, according to Federal Election Commission records.