Key Player Not Denying Allegations Against Coleman

November 2, 2008 2:27 p.m.

In the last few days, Norm Coleman, who’s in a desperate fight to hold onto his U.S.
Senate in Minnesota, has had to answer questions about appearing in a suit filed against one of his supporters, a politically connected multimillionaire named Nasser Kazeminy.

Paul McKim alleges in the suit that last year Kazeminy used Deep Marine Technologies to funnel $75,000 to Coleman, a Republican, through the Hays Companies, an insurance brokerage that employs Coleman’s wife, Laurie. McKim was formerly the CEO of Deep Marine, which Kazeminy owns.

The suit claims that Deep Marine last year sent money to Hays in three $25,000 installments. These payments, it alleges, were a way for Kazeminy to get money to Coleman, rather than payments for legitimate insurance services provided by Hays.

Of course, these are only allegations — one reason we’ve been wary of rushing to judgment here. But it’s worth noting that Hay’s owner, Jim Hays, doesn’t seem to be strongly denying the charges that his firm was involved in the alleged scheme.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Friday:

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.

And later, the company issued a statement saying that it provides risk management consultation to Deep Marine Technology, and adding, “We stand by our reputation as leaders in our industry and will not engage in empty speculation that is clearly meant to interfere with the election.”

If Hays really had performed legitimate services for Deep Marine, you’d expect its owner to simply declare that on the record.

Coleman, too, has yet to offer a detailed denial. At a press conference held Friday to address the issue, Coleman called the allegations “absolutely false” and “defamatory.” But the centerpiece of his remarks was a counterclaim that the Al Franken campaign had conspired with the Star Tribune to embarrass Coleman by exposing the contents of the lawsuit.

And Kazeminy has not publicly commented on the allegations.

Coleman and Kazeminy have had a close working relationship. The Star Tribune reports that in 2005, Kazeminy had provided $2,870 in flights for the Colemans, according to Senate disclosure forms.

And as we noted at the time, last month Harpers reported:

I’ve been told by two sources that [local businessman and political contributor Nasser] Kazeminy has in the past covered the bills for Coleman’s lavish clothing purchases at Nieman Marcus in Minneapolis. The sources were not certain of the dates of the purchases; if they were made before Coleman joined the Senate in 2003, he obviously would not be required to report it under senate rules. But having a private businessman pay for your clothing is never a good idea if you’re a public official (Coleman was mayor of St. Paul from 1994 to 2002).

In response, Coleman did not directly address the charge, saying that no one other than he or his wife had bought his suits, and adding: “If my friends have shared gifts with me and my family – or I have shared gifts with them – if they rose to the level of having to be reported – they were reported.”

So in the absence of exculpatory evidence — or even a clear and detailed denial of the charges form the principals in the case — it looks like the claims will continue to dog Coleman, until election day and beyond.

Late Update: The Hays Companies also released the following statement Friday, which again does not directly deny the charges at the center of Coleman’s role in the lawsuit — that Hays acted as a pass-through for Kazeminy to funnel money to Coleman:

Minneapolis — We believe the allegations in the lawsuit referenced in a story in today’s Star Tribune newspaper — a lawsuit to which we are not a party — are libelous and defamatory, and we intend to protect our name and our reputation vigorously with whatever means necessary.

The allegations that we are not licensed to perform services in Texas are simply false, as are other allegations contained in this disreputable lawsuit that refers to Hays Companies.

Laurie Coleman, who is fully and legally licensed to sell insurance in Minnesota, has been an Independent Contractor for Hays Companies since 2006.

We are pleased with her work, and we find any allegations that she accepted money for work she was not responsible for to be outrageous and contemptible.

Laurie Coleman receives no compensation related to the services we provide for our client Deep Marine Technology.

In the first half of 2007, we were retained to provide our risk management consulting services, and that work continues at this time.

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