Colemans tap top lawyers, as does friend named in suit

The FBI is investigating allegations against Nasser Kazeminy; Sen. Norm and Laurie Coleman and Jim Hays are not named.

Four of Minnesota's biggest legal guns have cast their shadows over two lawsuits that have drawn the attention of the FBI.

They have been retained by U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman; his wife, Laurie; Jim Hays, her insurance company employer; and Nasser Kazeminy, a multi-millionaire friend of the Colemans who is accused in the lawsuits of sending them money in 2007 through Hays' company. Coleman's Senate ethics form reports no such payment.

Three of the lawyers are former assistant U.S. attorneys who have prosecuted white-collar criminal cases. The fourth attorney has a reputation among prosecutors, defense colleagues and judges for thoroughness and aggressiveness wrapped in a civil demeanor.

Norm Coleman has hired Doug Kelley, Laurie Coleman is represented by Earl Gray, Hays is aligned with Doug Peterson and Kazeminy has secured the services of Joe Friedberg.

Kelley, Gray and Peterson are former federal prosecutors now engaged in criminal defense and white-collar litigation. For years they have been mainstays in the federal judicial system in Minnesota, working cases ranging from fraud to drugs to homicide.

In the past, Friedberg has been the attorney representing Winthrop & Weinstine law firm in Minneapolis, which once employed Coleman and currently claims Kazeminy as a client.

The attorneys would not comment on the case other than to confirm who they represent. The FBI's investigation is in its preliminary stages and no charges have been filed. Nevertheless, the attorneys have retained a Twin Cities-based private investigations company composed of former FBI agents to gather information about the case, according to two people with knowledge of the developments.

The investigation revolves around allegations in two lawsuits filed in late October against Kazeminy, who owns Houston-based Deep Marine Technology Inc., an underwater services company.

Paul McKim, founder and former CEO of Deep Marine, said in one of the suits that Kazeminy directed $75,000 in company funds be paid to Hays, then to be passed along to Coleman. Kazeminy allegedly told Deep Marine executives that Coleman didn't make enough money as a senator.

A lawsuit filed in Delaware by a group of minority shareholders of Deep Marine makes similar allegations and includes McKim as a defendant.

McKim's lawsuit alleges that Hays did not provide insurance products or services in exchange for the payments, which were made in three quarterly increments last year. McKim has said he blocked a scheduled fourth payment.

Kazeminy and Hays have denied any wrongdoing. Laurie Coleman has declined to comment. Sen. Coleman has said that all the allegations are false and that he welcomes an immediate investigation. Neither the Colemans nor Hays are parties to the lawsuits, but are mentioned in them.

The lawsuits raise a question over whether Coleman received income that was not reported in his Senate ethics forms. Regardless of what the FBI does or doesn't find in its investigation, the issue of unreported income is something the Senate Ethics Committee could choose to scrutinize. That panel has a policy of not confirming or denying its preliminary investigations. It has the power to subpoena documents and witnesses.

After a preliminary inquiry, the committee either dismisses a case or recommends discipline. Discipline typically involves a committee letter of admonition, though in rare cases it results in expulsion or censure by the Senate. The last such case occurred in 1990 -- the 96-0 vote to denounce then-Sen. Dave Durenberger of Minnesota over unethical conduct related to real estate, gifts and expenses. He did not seek reelection.

David Shaffer contributed to this report. Paul McEnroe 612-673-1745 Tony Kennedy 612-673-4213 Paul McEnroe is at pmcenroe@ startribune.com.

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