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Feds indict Zimmermann

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Former Minneapolis City Council member Dean Zimmermann was indicted Wednesday on federal bribery charges. (MPR file photo)
On Wednesday federal prosecutors charged former Minneapolis City Council member Dean Zimmermann with four counts of corruption. The indictments allege that Zimmermann accepted and solicited bribes. Zimmermann has not responded directly to the charges, but has said that he didn't do anything wrong. And some of his supporters say he's being unfairly targeted.

Minneapolis, Minn. — The indictment alleges that Dean Zimmermann accepted bribes totalling $7,200 on three separate occasions from a Minneapolis developer. The developer, who was not named in the indictments, was constructing a mixed-use complex in the city.

According to an affadavit filed by the FBI, the developer recorded conversations with Zimmermann that included the councilmember asking for money. U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger says Zimmermann and the developer established a quid-pro-quo agreement.

"Councilmember Zimmermann accepted something of value from an individual doing business with the city of Minneapolis," said Heffelfinger. "And that money was taken or solicited, or that thing of property was taken or solicited, with the intent that Councilmember Zimmermann be influenced in the exercise of his duties."

The developer allegedly wanted Zimmermann's support on some zoning issues pertaining to his property. At the time, Zimmermann served on the council's Zoning and Planning committee. However, the developer's zoning request was not granted by the council. Zimmermann even voted against it.

The investigation continued, and in September 2005, the FBI raided Zimmermann's home and confiscated computers and campaign records.

The fourth charge stems from e-mail messages exchanged between Zimmermann and a nonprofit neighborhood group. The group asked Zimmermann to sign a couple legal documents involving a townhouse project.

Zimmermann allegedly agreed, but asked the group to build a retaining wall on the property of a former girlfriend. The indictment says the group denied his request, leading Zimmermann to ask the group to supply him the materials free of charge and he'd build it himself. The wall was never built.

That would be totally contrary to everything I'd worked for as a political activist.
- Dean Zimmermann

Zimmermann has not responded directly to the charges. However, a few weeks after his home was raided last year, Zimmermann told Minnesota Public Radio he didn't take or solicit bribes.

"That would be totally contrary to everything I'd worked for as a political activist," Zimmermann said at the time.

In that same interview, Zimmermann said he did receive money from the developer. But he says he didn't take money for his own personal gain.

"The guy showed up one time and asked me how he could help with the campaign. And I said, of course, he could give donations to the campaign -- $300 limit -- and he said he had already given that much. And so I said, 'Well, is there something else you can do?' And I suggested that he might want to help out with the redistricting lawsuit," Zimmermann said last fall.

Some members of the Green Party refer to the redrawing of ward boundaries and the corruption case against Zimmermann as part of a larger effort to weaken the party's influence in Minneapolis.

The Greens filed suit over the new ward boundaries after Zimmermann and the party's other councilmember, Natalie Johnson Lee, were both drawn into races with incumbent Democrats. Both Zimmermann and Johnson Lee were defeated.

Farheen Hakeem ran for Minneapolis mayor last November as a Green. She says some Green Party members think Zimmermann is being set up by people who feel threatened by the party's growing influence in the city.

"I think that also means that we need to be much more detailed about our finances, to make sure that we do not get caught in any kind of trap where we could be hurt in any kind of way -- just like Dean has been just now, " said Hakeem.

Federal officials deny the allegations that the investigation and charges against Zimmermann are politically motivated. They say the federal government places a high priority on investigating public corruption.

Two former Minneapolis councilmembers have already served jail time in two other unrelated corruption cases in the last five years. Both of them were members of the DFL Party.

Each of the charges against Zimmermann carry maximum penalties of 10 years in jail and/or $250,000 in fines. A preliminary hearing has not yet been set.