Grimm fundraiser charged with campaign finance violations

January 15, 2014 Helen Klein
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A woman who raised money for Congressmember Michael Grimm’s campaign has been arrested on charges of having exceeded legal campaign contribution limits by funneling her excess contributions through straw donors, who allegedly made contributions to the campaign that she later repaid.

In papers filed in U.S. Eastern District Court, in Brooklyn, Diana Durand, a Texas resident, is alleged to “knowingly and willfully make, and cause to be made, contributions to Committee A, a federal campaign committee formed to receive campaign contributions for the election of Candidate A to federal office, which contributions exceeded the limitation contained in the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.”

The complaint charges that in funneling her excess contributions through other individuals, Durand “was aware that she was not permitted to make further monetary contributions to Committee A,” and is quoted as telling “two acquaintances that ‘the max you can donate is $4800.00 and after that you can’t give a dime, so believe me if I could give more than that so I wouldn’t have to ask everyone for help thats [sic] what I would do.’”

Subsequently, the complaint alleges, an individual – dubbed Straw Donor #1 – made a contribution of $4,800 to Candidate A’s campaign “at Durand’s request after Durand promised to reimburse her/him for the full amount,” and that Durand “had in fact reimbursed her/him by issuing Straw Donor #1 a check for $4,800 shortly after Straw Donor #1 had made a contribution to Committee A in that amount.”

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A similar story is told in the complaint about another individual, identified as Straw Donor #2, who also allegedly made a contribution to another congressional campaign at Durand’s suggestion, with Durand allegedly reimbursing the donor in advance. In addition, the complaint alleges that a person identified as Straw Donor #3 contributed $1,000 to Committee A on the same day that Durand paid that individual $1,000.

Further, according to the complaint, when FBI agents interviewed Durand, she denied having reimbursed Straw Donor #2 and said she had only reimbursed Straw Donor #1 because the donor “had called Durand and requested a return of the money s/he had contributed because of the strain the donation placed on her/his family’s finances,” a statement that Straw Donor #1 denied, according to the filing.

Grimm – a former FBI agent and former Marine — is not named in the complaint, and has been charged with no wrongdoing. But, it seems likely that he is Candidate A, as according to federal campaign finance records, Durand contributed the maximum $4,800 to his campaign, the amount cited in the complaint.

While Durand – who is identified in the complaint as a friend of Candidate A — contributed to other congressional campaigns during the same cycle, the maximum she contributed to other candidates was $2,400.

This is not the first time that a fundraiser associated with Grimm has been alleged to have been involved in irregularities. Rather, another Grimm fundraiser, Ofer Biton, an Israeli, pleaded guilty to visa fraud after having been embroiled in an investigation of his money-raising efforts on behalf of the congressmember in Grimm’s first run for office in 2009-2010.

According to the complaint, the investigation of Durand arose out of a larger investigation in the spring of 2012 of “whether violations of the Election Act had occurred in connection with Committee A…specifically, the investigation concerned whether individuals had circumvented contribution limits by funneling contributions through straw donors who were reimbursed for their donations…”

Contacted for comment, Grimm’s attorney, William McGinley, told this paper, “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.  The complaint does not allege any improper conduct by Congressman Grimm, and he denies any wrongdoing.”

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