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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

FBI arrests pal of Rep. Michael Grimm on charges of election fraud related to donations


A Texas woman who was a friend of and fund-raiser for Representative Michael G. Grimm has been charged with illegally funneling more than $10,000 into his 2010 campaign, according to court papers and people with knowledge of the case. The charges suggest that a two-year-old federal investigation into his fund-raising is still active.

The woman, Diana Durand, 47, of Houston, was arrested there on Friday by the F.B.I. on a criminal complaint filed in United States District Court in Brooklyn charging she used “straw donors” to mask more than $10,000 in illegal donations to Mr. Grimm. She had already donated $4,800, the legal limit.

The three-count criminal complaint also charges her with illegally funneling $4,800 to another congressman and with lying to F.B.I. agents about the donations.

Mr. Grimm, a Republican who represents Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, has been at the center of a federal campaign finance investigation since at least early 2012. Among the points of interest for investigators is that several contributors said Mr. Grimm or his chief fund-raiser told them that his campaign would find ways to accept donations that exceeded legal limits, were given in cash or came from foreigners without green cards.

A central player in the case, a former aide to a charismatic Orthodox rabbi, Yoshiyahu Pinto, pleaded guilty to visa fraud in August. The aide, Ofer Biton, helped direct hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mr. Grimm’s 2009-10 campaign.

Mr. Grimm’s lawyer, William McGinley of Patton Boggs LLP, said that the complaint against Ms. Durand did not allege any improper conduct by his client, who denies any wrongdoing.

“We are saddened that the government took the extraordinary step of arresting a single mother on these allegations, and hope the matter will be resolved quickly,” he said in an email.

The complaint does not identify the campaign committees of the congressmen by name, referring to them as Committees A and B. But people briefed on the matter identified Committee A as Mr. Grimm’s campaign and Candidate A as Mr. Grimm. The details of the legal contributions Ms. Durand made to Committee A also match Mr. Grimm’s campaign records.

Neither Ms. Durand nor her lawyer responded to voice mail and email messages seeking comment. Mr. Grimm, a former F.B.I. agent, lawyer and businessman, was easily re-elected to a second term in 2012.

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