Fox 9’s Tom Lyden reports that U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and his wife, Laurie, were in the midst of a major home remodeling project in the spring of 2007, at the same time that a Texas firm controlled by Coleman benefactor Nasser Kazeminy was making payments to the insurance firm where Laurie Coleman works. The $328,000 project, which included the kitchen seen in a campaign ad, went over budget by $86,000 — a sum that is in the range of the amount that Deep Marine Technology directed to Laurie Coleman’s employer, the Hays Companies ($75,000, plus another $25,000 payment that was canceled).
So there is a circumstantial link between the payments and the house costs, a potential motive for Kazeminy to steer a sum like that to the Colemans, as two lawsuits allege and the FBI is now looking into. (The Republican senator has denied the charge and welcomed the investigation.) But it’s not yet a “gotcha” — as Lyden admits in a blog post. Like MnIndy, Fox 9 had been sniffing around Colemans’ remodeling project in relation to the Texas charges since before Election Day. Video, transcript and property tax record after the jump.
Another interesting tidbit: The Colemans paid a campaign donor $33,000 for design services on the project.
Here’s the Colemans’ property tax statement.
Here’s a link to the Fox 9 video report.
Here’s video released by the Minnesota DFL Party showing Fox 9 reporter Lyden trying to ask Coleman about the remodeling and Texas lawsuits after a press conference in Monticello, Minn.
And here’s a transcript of the Fox 9 report, which the Al Franken for Senate distributed by e-mail without comment this morning.
JEFF PASSOLT: Tonight, a federal investigation into an extreme home makeover. The home belongs to Senator Norm Coleman and his wife.
ROBYNE ROBINSON: The timing and the cost of their home renovation raises new questions about an allegation a wealthy businessmen tried funneling money to the senator. Fox 9 investigator Tom Lyden has been digging deep into this and he joins us now with what he’s found.
TOM LYDEN: The FBI is now reportedly investigating these allegations that Edina businessman Nasser Kazeminy tried to funnel $75,000 to the U.S. Senator through the Senator’s wife, Laurie. But we couldn’t help wondering why a U.S. Senator, who makes about $180,000 a year, actually need the money? That’s what the Fox 9 investigators began looking about a month ago, and it lead us right to the Senator’s doorstep.
LYDEN: Norm Coleman’s home in Saint Paul’s Crocus Hill neighborhood is not lavish, but it’s a lot nicer than it used to be, thanks in part to contractor Jim Taylor, who helped remodel the senator’s home two years ago.
JIM TAYLOR: Actually put a second floor master bedroom bathroom – the bedroom was there, we just added the bedroom with a closet and a kitchen remodeling, turned into half the house remodeled by the time we painted and we finished the floors and did the landscape work.
LYDEN: The remodeled kitchen was even the backdrop for some of the senator’s campaign commercials.
LAURIE COLEMAN: Hey Norm, will you take out the trash?
NORM COLEMAN: I got it, honey.
LYDEN: The Fox 9 investigators learned the woman in charge of the project was Sherry Wilsey, an interior designer and along with her husband Roger longtime friends of the Colemans’ and financial contributors to the Senator’s campaigns.
The Wilseys even hosted a fundraiser for Senator Coleman during the Republican National Convention at their Summit Avenue mansion just a few blocks from the Colemans’.
TAYLOR: She’s a designer, and she got us in contact with Norm. Pretty much we were done by the end of the year; there were a few things that lingered on into the spring.
LYDEN: The spring of 2007. That’s when, according to two lawsuits, Edina businessman Nasser Kazeminy began a series of three $25,000 payments to Coleman from Deep Marine Technology, a company he controlled in Texas, to Hays Company, a Minnesota insurance company where Laurie Coleman works.
Senator Coleman is not a party to the lawsuits, but he’s denied any wrongdoing, claiming it’s all politics.
NORM COLEMAN: The allegations regarding me and my wife in this suit are false and defamatory.
DAVID SCHULTZ: There’s no question about the fact that it doesn’t look good.
LYDEN: But government ethics professor David Schultz says tough questions are fair game when serious financial allegations are made which involve a U.S. Senator.
SCHULTZ: It speaks to, first in terms of credibility, in terms of what Norm Coleman has to say in terms of responding to allegations. Second, it speaks to also sort of the whole sense of motive, motive in terms of why he might at this point going, trying to get money through his wife from an individual in Texas.
LYDEN: We tried to talk to Senator Coleman about the home renovation project three weeks ago when he visited the Monticello nuclear plant. You would have thought we were radioactive.
Senator Coleman never did agree to sit for an interview, but his campaign did agree to share billing records of the remodeling project. Originally projected to cost $328,000, four months later it was up to $414,000, overbudget by $86,000.
[OVERLAY: ESTIMATE, OCT. ’06
ESTIMATE, FEB. 28, ’07
LYDEN: Similar to the amount, and at the same time, the lawsuit alleges Kazeminy was trying to get money to Coleman.
According to the lawsuits, in March of 2007, Kazeminy said “U.S. Senators don’t make [s–t]” and he was going to try to find a way to get money to U.S. Senator Norm Coleman.
SCHULTZ: On the one level, it could just be a coincidence. On the other level, it could be that one of the reasons why he’s getting this money from elsewhere is to try to basically make up for his – to be able to pay off a loan, to be able to pay off a line of credit.
LYDEN: Records provided by the campaign showed Coleman paid his friend Wilsey, the general contractor, in full for the renovation, $414,000. And he did it in part by refinancing his home in March 2007, for $775,000. The Senator acknowledges that, like a lot of people in America, he now owes more on his home than it’s actually worth.
That isn’t a crime. What we know is this: the senator had costly and overbudget renovations to his home at the same time a contributor was allegedly trying to funnel him money. We don’t know if the Colemans’ really needed the money, or if the Kazeminy allegations are even true.
REPORTER: Why won’t the senator answer the question?
LYDEN: But on at least two occasions now, the senator has walked away from reporters claiming their motives are political. And yet the questions aren’t going away. [END VIDEO]
LYDEN: Couple of footnotes – the interior designer and general contractor, Sherry Wilsey, was paid $33,000 for her work. That’s important because, as a friend and a Coleman contributor, if she wasn’t paid for her services that would be a gift and would have to be reported to the Senate Ethics Committee.
Also want to clarify something Jeff said, the FBI investigation concerns the Kazeminy allegations and not the home renovations – at this point.