Suits: $75,000 was sent to a firm where Coleman's wife is employed.
The FBI is investigating allegations in two lawsuits accusing a friend and political supporter of Sen. Norm Coleman of attempting to funnel $75,000 to Coleman from the coffers of a Texas company that the friend controls.
Sources familiar with the probe said FBI agents in Texas have begun gathering information and contacting people associated with Houston-based Deep Marine Technology Inc., an underwater services company controlled by Nasser Kazeminy, a wealthy businessman whose flagship investment company is based in Bloomington.
Paul McKim, the founder and former CEO of Deep Marine, has alleged in a lawsuit against Kazeminy that Kazeminy steered $75,000 in payments last year to Hays Companies Inc. of Minneapolis, a large insurance agency that employs Coleman's wife, Laurie Coleman.
McKim's lawsuit alleges that Kazeminy told executives at Deep Marine that Coleman didn't make enough money as a senator and that the payments to Hays were to aid Coleman financially.
Coleman said after the election that he welcomes an immediate investigation. On Wednesday, Luke Friedrich, press secretary for Coleman's U.S. Senate campaign, said the senator had not been contacted by any investigators.
FBI Special Agent Shauna Dunlap, a spokesperson for the agency's Houton division, said Wednesday that the FBI does not confirm nor deny the existence of investigations.
Geoffrey Harrison, a lawyer for Deep Marine, said he doesn't know of any current officers, executives, employees or shareholders of Deep Marine who have been questioned by the FBI.
"I likely would have heard about a contact being made and I've heard of none,'' Harrison said.
McKim said in his lawsuit that Hays did not provide insurance products or services to Deep Marine in exchange for the payments and that he blocked a scheduled fourth payment to Hays that would have been for an additional $25,000.
News of the lawsuit was first reported five days before the election between Coleman, a Republican, and DFL challenger Al Franken -- the election's outcome is still undecided and is the subject of a recount.
In late October, McKim told the Star Tribune in an interview in Houston that he would invite an FBI investigation of the payouts made to Hays Companies. He acknowledged that while he might find himself in trouble for initially signing off on the first $25,000 payment sent to Hays, it was paramount that federal authorities understand the context in which the payment was made.
On Wednesday, Casey Wallace, the lawyer for McKim, declined to comment on whether the FBI has contacted or interviewed his client.
McKim's Texas lawsuit is pending along with a second lawsuit, filed in Delaware, by a group of minority shareholders of Deep Marine. Both suits allege additional corporate misappropriations by Kazeminy, who has been a major political donor to Coleman since Coleman switched to the Republican Party in 1998.
Kazeminy has vehemently denied the allegations and Hays said the Texas lawsuit contains allegations directed toward his company that are erroneous. Laurie Coleman has not commented on the lawsuits, and Norm Coleman has said all the allegations are false. Neither the Colemans nor Hays are parties to the lawsuits, but are mentioned in them.
Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a liberal political group, wrote letters in November to the Senate Ethics Committee and the FBI asking for investigations of the allegations raised in the two suits. The alliance's petition said the Texas allegations, if true, are potential violations of the Senate ban on gifts worth more than $50 and a requirement to disclose all gifts worth more than $250.
"The citizens of Minnesota deserve to know the truth, and we are grateful that the FBI will be looking into the matter," said Denise Cardinal, executive director of the alliance. "These are serious allegations of fraud that have been made regarding Norm Coleman."
The Senate Ethics Committee has a policy of not confirming or denying investigations.
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