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Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman has a verbal exchange at the end of his Friday morning news conference at the Courtyard by Marriott in Moorhead. Photos by David Samson / The Forum

Coleman calls lawsuit defamatory

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ST. PAUL -- The October surprise came with not a day to spare.

On the final day of the month known for election-year bombshells, U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman on Friday staunchly disputed a lawsuit alleging that a wealthy supporter funneled $75,000 to the senator through his wife's employer.

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Coleman called it "a false and malicious political attack."

Entering the final weekend of a nasty Senate battle, Coleman accused challenger Al Franken's Democratic allies of engaging in a "sleazy" smear campaign. The Republican senator suggested during a Moorhead campaign stop that Democrats were behind the Texas civil lawsuit and they want to influence the outcome of Tuesday's election.

"Each and every allegation in this lawsuit relating to me and my wife is false and defamatory," Coleman said.

Franken's campaign said it was not aware of the suit until it heard Coleman dodged reporters' questions about it Thursday.

Neither major candidate will emerge from the late-campaign issue having gained support, a political scientist predicted.

"I don't think it's going to benefit either Coleman or Franken because it just looks like they're engaged in more dirty politics," said Paula O'Loughlin, University Minnesota Morris professor.

Despite Coleman's strong remarks, he doesn't come out ahead because he has to respond to the lawsuit when he otherwise would be talking about other issues, O'Loughlin said. But it probably will not dramatically alter the election outcome, she added.

"I think that it could hurt Coleman with some people, but it could just as easily hurt Franken's campaign," O'Loughlin said.

Paul McKim, founder and former CEO of Houston-based Deep Marine Technology, claims that Coleman's friend, businessman Nasser Kazeminy of Minnesota, pressured the company to make payments to Minneapolis-based Hays Cos., which employs Laurie Coleman, who is a licensed insurance broker. Kazeminy and his companies comprise the largest shareholder in Deep Marine Technology, the suit says.

In a statement Friday, Hays Cos. called the suit "libelous and defamatory." The company said that it provides risk management consulting services to Deep Marine Technology, but that Laurie Coleman received no money related to those services.

"We are pleased with her work, and we find any allegations that she accepted money for work she was not responsible for to be outrageous and contemptible," the statement said.

But McKim's lawsuit alleges that no one at Hays has ever provided any services or products to Deep Marine Technology, which provides subsea services to the offshore oil and gas industry.

McKim's lawyer, Casey Wallace, noted that the lawsuit doesn't make a claim against either the Colemans or Hays Cos.

"We do not blame them, we do not describe them, and we do not tell the court that they committed any wrongful acts," he said. "We have never said one word about Norm Coleman, or Laurie Coleman, or that they did anything nefarious. We have not defamed Norm Coleman."

"This has absolutely nothing to do with the election," Wallace said, adding that McKim describes himself as a Republican.

Coleman questioned the timing of the suit. It originally was filed Monday, then withdrawn. Then, Coleman said, it was re-filed after his campaign Thursday submitted a campaign advertising complaint against Franken.

"This is a lawsuit brought by the CEO of a Texas company alleging serious wrongdoing on the part of one of Norm Coleman's biggest donors to financially benefit Coleman," Franken spokeswoman Colleen Murray said. "Norm Coleman can try to deflect attention, but the fact remains: These are serious sworn allegations, and he needs to answer questions about them before the election."

It was just the type of late-breaking twist to the campaign that political observers have learned to expect in the close of a hotly contested race.

Two years ago Gov. Tim Pawlenty won re-election amid late-campaign outbursts by his Democratic opponent, then-Attorney General Mike Hatch.

The 2002 Senate race was upended with the late-October death of Sen. Paul Wellstone in an airplane crash. Coleman went on to defeat former Vice President Walter Mondale.

SCOTT WENTE works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the News Tribune.The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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