August 25, 2007
Michigan Attorneys Charged with Making Illegal Contributions to Edwards Campaign in 2004
Two Michigan attorneys, one a former Democratic nominee for Governor, were charged with multiple violations of the federal campaign contribution laws for allegedly orchestrating over $125,000 in contributions to John Edwards' 2004 Presidential campaign by using straw donors. The defendants are accused of using both employees of their law firm, where they are partners, and firm vendors to make contributions to the Edwards campaign that were subsequently reimbursed as bonuses and through false invoices. The defendants are also accused of causing the Edwards campaign to file false contribution reports with the Federal Election Commission, in violation of Sec. 1001. According to a Department of Justice press release (here):
[U]nbeknownst to Senator Edwards’ campaign, the defendants caused more than 60 persons, known as straw donors, to make contributions in the then-maximum allowable amount of $2,000 per donor – contributions which were actually paid for by the Fieger firm rather than the named donors. The indictment alleges a conspiracy that continued from March 2003 through January 2004. On four separate occasions, [the defendants] identified and solicited different groups of straw donors. For example, it alleges that in March 2003, they recruited 19 straw donors, each of whom was either an employee of the Fieger firm or a family member of a Fieger firm employee. Once the straw donors had been selected, [the defendants] allegedly caused the Fieger firm to pay each firm employee in the amount of that straw donor’s own contribution plus the amount of any contribution made by that donor’s family members. The indictment charges that, in March alone, $38,000 worth of illegal contributions were arranged for by [the defendants].
In addition to the campaign contribution charges, Geoffrey Fieger, the former gubernatorial candidate, is also accused of obstruction of justice during the grand jury investigation. According to the indictment (available below), Fieger allegedly made misleading statements in an FBI interview stating that the person responsible for the contributions was a deceased partner of the law firm, and meeting with firm employees who were donors likely to be called before the grand jury and making statements "implying" that the person responsible for the contributions was, again, the deceased partner.
The obstruction charge will present Fieger and his counsel with an interesting challenge about whether he should testify. If he comes across as less-than-honest on the witness stand, it could effectively make the government's entire case by showing him to be a liar. At the same time, Fieger is a well-known figure in the legal media and has charisma that could work well with a jury in the Detroit area, where he is well-known. Fieger earlier raised issues regarding the political motivation for the investigation, and that theme is likely to be repeated at trial, to the extent the court will allow it. That may well impel Fieger to testify to try to raise an issue regarding whether he has been targeted by a Republican administration bent on destroying its political enemies. (ph)
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