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A second lawsuit was filed Friday by minority shareholders who allege that a close family friend of Sen. Norm Coleman used a marine company in Texas to pay $75,000 to the senator via a Minneapolis insurance company where Coleman's wife, Laurie, is an independent contractor. The suit attributes the allegations to a "confidential source."
Coleman's campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan, said Friday night that the suits are "baseless and false claims ... being used to influence the outcome of the election.''
Sheehan also said that the Star Tribune, by reporting on the lawsuits, "is actively participating in the destruction of the reputation of Senator Coleman and his wife.''
On a campaign swing through the state Friday, Coleman characterized the first lawsuit, which was filed in Texas, as a false and "sleazy" political attack. In a written statement, he linked it to "malicious'' campaigning by DFL challenger Al Franken "and his allies.''
"If my opponents have any shred of decency left in this campaign -- stop attacking my family,'' Coleman said in a statement.
Franken spokeswoman Colleen Murray said no one associated with the Franken campaign had anything to do with bringing the lawsuit to light. She said Coleman was trying to deflect serious sworn allegations by Paul McKim, founder of Deep Marine Technology Inc. of Houston, in the first lawsuit. That lawsuit, filed in Harris County District Court in Houston, also alleges that Coleman friend Nasser Kazeminy steered the money from Deep Marine to the senator via Hays Companies, where Laurie Coleman, the senator's wife, has worked as an independent contractor since 2006.
Neither Hays nor the Colemans are parties to the lawsuit, but Coleman said it is clear that McKim timed the suit to use the election as leverage.
In an interview conducted in a downtown Houston office Friday, McKim said, "I'm a Republican, but I'd never heard of Coleman before.'' He said he has given small campaign contributions to a few Republican politicians, including U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas. "I don't know the man. Maybe he's a good man getting tangled up in this. I feel bad for anybody getting tangled up.''
McKim also said it's possible that no money from Deep Marine ever reached the Colemans.
Bruce Gilman, chairman and interim CEO of Deep Marine, said in a statement Friday that the company is "conducting its own investigation, which was launched immediately upon our being made aware of the allegations. ... To date, we have not found any evidence of wrongdoing."
Hays Companies, with headquarters in downtown Minneapolis, said Friday that McKim's lawsuit contains false and defamatory allegations and is "disreputable.''
The firm also defended Laurie Coleman, saying "We find any allegations that she accepted money for work she was not responsible for to be outrageous and contemptible.''
Kazeminy is a former Control Data Corp. executive who has made campaign contributions to Coleman and is described by the senator as a close family friend. Calls have been made to his attorney and to NJK Holdings in Bloomington, headquarters for a large segment of his varied business enterprises, but Kazeminy has been unavailable for comment.
Anthony Paduano, a New York lawyer involved in the new lawsuit, said the suit was filed in Delaware Chancery Court by business partners who own more than 5 percent of stock in Deep Marine.
The lawsuit is very similar to one filed earlier in the week in Houston by McKim. Both actions allege that Kazeminy told executives at Deep Marine that he wanted to provide financial assistance to the Colemans through an insurance consulting arrangement between Deep Marine and Hays Companies. But the second suit cites a "confidential source." The lawsuit alleges "gross misuse'' of corporate funds at Deep Marine by Kazeminy, who controls a majority share of stock. The complaint contains a section of allegations related to "improper payments to Senator Norman Coleman's wife.'' But in a new wrinkle, Deep Marine's former CEO, McKim, is named as a co-defendant with Kazeminy and several other individuals who were in positions of authority at the company.
McKim's lawsuit was based on his sworn statement that Kazeminy coerced him and others to make three $25,000 payments to Hays. The second suit, brought by FLI Deep Marine LLC and Bressner Partners LTD, attributes its allegations to a "confidential source.''
According to the lawsuit, the source was told by Kazeminy in 2007 that "we have to get some money to Senator Coleman'' because the senator "needs the money.''
McKim has said the timing of the lawsuit was dictated by events related to his recent departure from Deep Marine, which was over his conflict with Kazeminy.
McKim told the Star Tribune on Friday that he filed his lawsuit to seek justice over $22 million in damages to Deep Marine he alleges were largely caused by bad boat deals engineered by Kazeminy and his associates. Less than 1 percent of the damages listed in the suit are related to the $75,000 that Kazeminy allegedly directed to Coleman.
"I'm sorry it happened at this time,'' McKim said, "but I have to look myself in the eye. It's just the truth. It is what it is.'' McKim said he recalls how Kazeminy approached him and Deep Marine's chief financial officer in 2007 with a directive to channel $100,000 to the senator via Hays.
"He said that the senator's wife worked there and she could get the money to him,'' McKim said. "I was kind of stunned. I was really shocked he would come out and say that so nonchalantly.''
At the time, the sea diving and underwater construction company that McKim founded in 2001 had no need for new insurance services, McKim said. The company was paying $1 million a year for coverage arranged through underwriters in London who specialized in underwater offshore lines, he said.
McKim said he feared that Kazeminy would fire him if he didn't go along. But after three $25,000 installments were paid to Hays, the CEO stepped in and blocked the fourth scheduled payment.
"Maybe I just should have shut up and turned an eye and do like a bunch of other folks in business do,'' McKim said. "I couldn't do that.''
He acknowledged that approving the first check puts him in a "spot." McKim said he is willing to talk to any federal agency, including the FBI and U.S. attorney's office, about money he alleges was paid by Deep Marine to Hays for work that was never performed.