Grimm fundraiser pleads guilty

September 3, 2014 Helen Klein
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A day after a date was set for the trial of Congressmember Michael Grimm on tax evasion and fraud charges, a woman who raised money for Grimm’s 2010 campaign has pleaded guilty to violating the Federal Election Campaign Act.

Diana Durand, of Houston, Texas, appeared in Brooklyn Eastern District Court before Judge Sterling Johnson, Jr., on September 3, to enter her guilty plea, acknowledging that she had funneled campaign contributions in excess of the amount permitted under federal law to two unidentified candidates for federal office through straw donors to the candidates, identified only as Candidate A and Candidate B in court papers.

Durand also acknowledged either paying the straw donors the amount they contributed in advance of their contribution, or reimbursing them afterwards.

Grimm – a former FBI agent and former Marine who has served in Congress representing Staten Island and portions of Brooklyn since 2011, and who is up for reelection this year — was not named in the Durand indictment. 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.

Another Grimm fundraiser, Ofer Biton, an Israeli, previously 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.

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch promised that, working with the FBI, she would “aggressively pursue anyone who attempts to circumvent federal campaign financing laws. Enforcement of these laws,” she added, “ensures that all candidates compete on a level playing field and that the public knows the true source of a candidate’s campaign funds.”

Durand faces a maximum of two years in prison as a result of her guilty plea.

Grimm has pleaded not guilty to the charges contained in the 20-count indictment brought against him this past spring. All the charges – including five counts of mail fraud, five counts of wire fraud, three counts of aiding and assisting in the preparation of false federal tax returns, one count of conspiring to defraud the United States, one count of impeding the Internal Revenue Service, one count of health care fraud, one count of engaging in a pattern or practice of hiring and continuing to employ unauthorized aliens, two counts of perjury and one count of obstructing an official proceeding — arise from a business Grimm had owned, Healthalicious, a small fast food eatery in Manhattan.

Federal officials have alleged that the congressmember under-reported income at the restaurant by more than $1 million, and paid employees hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages “off the books.”

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