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Suit alleges ally funneled $75,000 to the Colemans

  • Article by: PAUL MCENROE and TONY KENNEDY
  • Star Tribune s t aff w r iters
  • October 31, 2008 - 10:43 AM

A Texas businessman has filed a lawsuit alleging that Minnesota multimillionaire Nasser Kazeminy used his Houston marine company to funnel $75,000 to Sen. Norm Coleman last year via a Minneapolis insurance company that employs the senator's wife.

Coleman adamantly denies the claims in the lawsuit. "This is a vicious, defamatory attack on the senator and his wife less than one week before the election," Cullen Sheehan, Coleman's campaign manager, said Thursday.

Coleman addressed the suit at a brief press conference this morning in Moorhead, where he is campaigning for reelection. He says he believes Minnesotans will "see it for what it is -- sleazy politics -- and reject it out of hand."

The company, Deep Marine Technology, is controlled by Kazeminy, a close friend of Coleman's and a longtime campaign contributor.

The allegations about Coleman were among the claims in the suit over corporate practices filed Monday by Deep Marine's former CEO, Paul McKim, who founded the company in 2001. The suit was withdrawn later Monday during a flurry of settlement negotiations but was refiled Thursday after those talks failed, said Casey Wallace, a lawyer for McKim. Robert Weinstine, listed in the lawsuit as Kazeminy's Minneapolis attorney, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Wallace said the timing of the lawsuit -- filed nine days before the election in one of the hardest-fought U.S. Senate races in the country -- had "absolutely nothing to do with politics." Coleman, a Republican, is in a tight race against Democratic challenger Al Franken. Asked why he didn't wait until after Election Day to file the lawsuit, Wallace said, "Because it had nothing to do with the election.''

Wallace said that in late July, Kazeminy excluded McKim, who was then chief executive officer, from the company's daily operations and asked him to stay away for 90 days. Kazeminy controls a majority of the company's stock. During that time, other minority shareholders sought changes at Deep Marine, Wallace said. He said when those efforts failed and the 90 days expired, the suit was filed.

The lawsuit, based on a sworn statement by McKim, alleges the money intended for Coleman was sent last year in three $25,000 installments to the Hays Companies of Minneapolis, the insurance brokerage that employs Coleman's wife, Laurie. The suit alleges that Kazeminy created the arrangement to provide financial assistance to the senator -- not to obtain insurance services -- by disguising the payments as legitimate business transactions between Deep Marine and Hays. The suit alleges that McKim refused to approve the fourth payment to Hays, against the direction of Kazeminy.

"It's patently false," Sheehan said of the payment allegations. "It's over the top, bizarre."

The alleged payments to Hays were for invoices received by Deep Marine on May 16, June 1 and Sept. 4, the suit alleges. A fourth invoice from Hays was received by Deep Marine on Dec. 11, but McKim blocked the $25,000 payment from being made, according to the suit.

"Laurie Coleman never provided any type of services or products to DMT, nor has any other person on behalf of Hays provided any type of services to DMT,'' the suit alleges. Laurie Coleman did not respond to an interview request. State commerce records show she has been a registered insurance agent since October 2006.

Jim Hays, owner of the Hays Companies, could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Dan Walseth, said Hays Companies has "a fee arrangement with them [Deep Marine] ... to provide insurance advice with them. I don't want to go any further than that."

In 2005, Coleman disclosed on Senate ethics forms that Kazeminy had provided $2,870 in flights for the Colemans.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

pmcenroe@startribune.com. • 612-673-1745 tonyk@statribune.com • 612-673-4213#

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