Nearly three years after allegations of campaign finance irregularities convulsed the closing days of Minnesota's epic 2008 Senate campaign, the U.S. Justice Department has decided not to file criminal charges against then-Sen. Norm Coleman or his friend and benefactor, Minnesota businessman Nasser Kazeminy.
Attorneys for Kazeminy announced the department's decision Tuesday, saying their client and the former senator were vindicated by it.
A Justice Department spokeswoman would not confirm or deny that an investigation existed or that a decision to forgo charges had been made. "We always decline [to] comment about investigations," said spokeswoman Laura Sweeney.
Late in the campaign, reports surfaced that Kazeminy tried to funnel $75,000 to the family of former Sen. Norm Coleman through a Minneapolis insurance company that employed Coleman's wife, Laurie.
Those allegations had "no credibility," said Robert Weinstine, one of Kazeminy's attorneys.
Former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who was hired by Kazeminy to investigate the allegations against him, said that although "these allegations were entirely false, they were repeated in hundreds of local and national media reports" that left the reputations of the two men "injured and tarnished."
He did say that Kazeminy had previously given Coleman more than $100,000 in gifts, but said those gifts were neither illegal nor improper.
Freeh said he was told by Justice officials in February that no charges would be brought. The announcement was held until Tuesday, he said, because a related bankruptcy case was resolved only last week. "Is the timing of how this was resolved ideal? No," Freeh said. "But I'm not going to cast aspersions."
The allegations came late in the campaign that culminated in Coleman's 312-vote loss to Al Franken and sparked a blizzard of investigations and lawsuits. Both Coleman and Kazeminy vehemently and consistently denied the accusations.
One lawsuit, in Texas, still hasn't been resolved, Weinstine said.
In a prepared statement, Coleman said the department's decision "is welcomed but not a surprise" and that his "political opponents turned those lies into multimillion-dollar attacks against my family and Nasser Kazeminy."
In response to an e-mail requesting additional comment, Coleman wrote, "the statement speaks for itself."
In a separate statement, Kazeminy, who is traveling in England, complained of "lies repeated over and over about you and the people you love." The Justice Department's decision, he said, proves "the facts were on our side."
Kazeminy provided suits
In his review of a previous investigation, Freeh said he was able to confirm that Kazeminy had given Coleman gifts over the years that totaled more than $100,000 in value. Those included at least two suits from Nieman Marcus in Minneapolis and flights to Florida on Kazeminy's private jets. The gifts stretched back to the former senator's terms as St. Paul mayor.
Ron Rosenbaum, a Minneapolis attorney serving as a spokesman for Kazeminy, said Freeh didn't merely rely on Kazeminy's version of events, but reviewed the previous investigation of the allegations, along with numerous documents.
"He went over everything," Rosenbaum said.
"In criminal defense work, you don't rely on your client's word. Kazeminy wanted this investigated from top to bottom because he wanted a clean bill of health."
When reports that Kazeminy had provided suits to Coleman surfaced in 2008, Coleman denied them, asserting, "Nobody except my wife or me buy my suits."
On Tuesday, Freeh said that "we found that there were gifts that were made." He said that Coleman and Kazeminy "have a long-term, personal relationship that goes back to when he was mayor. ... We looked at the gifts and we found no wrongdoing and no impropriety with respect to that exchange."
Asked how Coleman's former constituents might react to gifts that exceed many Minnesota families' yearly income, Freeh said "perceptions of people are obviously very, very important, but what I focused on and I'm sure what the government focused on was whether there was any criminal activity or corrupt activity."
Staff writer Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report. Bob von Sternberg • 651-222-0973