Thursday, December 18, 2014
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Federal agents search home of Minneapolis Council member
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Federal agents searched the home of Minneapolis City Council member Dean Zimmermann on Thursday. (MPR Photo/Bianca Vazquez Toness)
The campaign for Minneapolis City Councilmember Dean Zimmermann is in disarray after FBI agents took campaign materials and financial records from Zimmermann's home. The FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office said little about the case except that it was part of an ongoing investigation.

Minneapolis, Minn. — FBI agents spent about three hours going through Zimmermann's home, which is also his campaign headquarters. Zimmermann did not comment to reporters. Lauren Maker, campaign coordinator for the Green Party member, says agents showed up at Zimmermann's house with a search warrant and a sealed affidavit.

"The information that I saw them take was primarily campaign information. They took both of our computers systems. They took all of our mailing lists. They took all of our voter ID lists. They took all of our contributors' lists. They took all of our volunteer lists. They took everything connected with the campaign," she said.

Maker said they also took personal and campaign financial records.

A spokesman with the FBI would only say they executed a federal search warrant in south Minneapolis as a part of an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Attorney's office.

Karen Bailey, with the U.S. Attorney's office, would not comment further except to say that the search warrant would be available at the clerk's office in the morning. Zimmermann is a peace activist and environmentalist who's been known to travel around the city by bicycle. He's in his first term on the City Council and was facing a tough re-election. Both he and DFL incumbent Robert Lilligren were redistricted into the same ward.

Maker says she isn't sure how the campaign will operate with this cloud coming just days before Tuesday's primary.

"It's kind of like having a sucker punch in your guts," she said. "It's like five days before the election, and they walk off literally with everything you need to run your campaign. It's like OK, now what do we do besides punt?"

About a dozen campaign workers and friends were seen entering and leaving Zimmermann's home throughout the evening. Several said they were scheduled to do a get-out-the-vote mailing for Zimmermann. Green Party mayoral candidate Farheen Hakeem said she dropped by Zimmermann's home to give him moral support. She said Zimmermann sat at his dinner table and said little.

"He looked like as if a train just hit him and he looked like he was in shock. I'm very much in shock because he's the nicest guy ever. He would never hurt a fly. So many people in the community who have known him for years just love him," she said.

Neighbor Nancy Stevens stood by and watched as reporters and others staked out Zimmermann's home. She says she can't believe that Zimmermann would do anything illegal and questioned the timing of the search.

"I think they are some of the more straightforward, honest people -- direct people -- that you could ever meet. To me it seems very very odd that all of this coming down just days before the primary. I'm very suspicious as to what instigated this and who instigated this," she said.

Calls to Zimmermann's colleagues on the City Council were not returned. Jeremy Hanson, a spokesman for Mayor R.T. Rybak, says the mayor knows little about the investigation. He says the U.S. Attorney's Office notified the mayor in the afternoon that a search warrant was going to be issued on an unidentified Council member.

"I understand that an active investigation is in progress with the U.S. Attorney's office, and I know that the city will cooperate fully with the U.S. Attorney's office on this investigation," he said.

This isn't the first time federal authorities scrutinized a sitting Minneapolis Councilmember. In 2001, Councilmember Brian Herron pleaded guilty to extorting money from a constituent in exchange for regulatory help.

In 2002, Councilmember Joe Biernat was convicted in U.S. District court of lying to a federal agent, aiding and abetting a theft and three counts of mail fraud.

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