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Michigan Attorneys Indicted for Alleged Campaign Finance Violations

WASHINGTON – Oakland County, Mich., attorneys Geoffrey Fieger and Vernon Johnson have been indicted by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Michigan for alleged crimes relating to fundraising for the 2004 presidential campaign including violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act, making false statements, and obstruction of justice, the Department of Justice announced today.

According to the indictment, which was returned on Aug. 21, 2007 and unsealed today in the U.S. District Court in Detroit, Fieger, 56, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and Johnson, 45, of Birmingham, Mich., conspired to make more than $125,000 in illegal campaign contributions to the 2004 presidential campaign of U.S. Senator John Edwards.

As alleged in the indictment, Mr. Fieger and Mr. Johnson are both attorneys and officers of the Michigan law firm Fieger, Fieger, Kenney & Johnson, P.C., of Southfield, Mich., and have both been practicing law for more than 20 years.

The indictment charges that, unbeknownst 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, Fieger and Johnson 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, Fieger and Johnson 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 Fieger and Johnson.

According to the indictment, Fieger and/or Johnson solicited additional straw donors in June 2003, September 2003, and January 2004. Each time, Fieger and/or Johnson selected a different group of straw donors, including mostly non-attorney employees of the Fieger firm (in June 2003), friends of Fieger (in September 2003), and third-party vendors of services to Fieger and the Fieger firm (in January 2004). Fieger and/or Johnson also allegedly caused illegal contributions in the names of family members of each group of straw donors, including three minor children of Fieger=s friends in September 2004.

Also according to the indictment, Fieger tried to obstruct and impede the grand jury’s investigation of the illegal campaign contributions. Specifically, the indictment alleges that he attempted to shift responsibility for the illegal contributions to a deceased officer of the Fieger firm, attempted to mislead the grand jury by telling witnesses false information with the intent that the witnesses would repeat that false information to law enforcement authorities, and attempted to conceal an incriminating document from the grand jury.

The indictment states that Senator Edwards’ campaign was unaware of Fieger and Johnson’s actions. Senator Edwards and his campaign staff have cooperated fully with this investigation.

The 10-count indictment charges Fieger and Johnson, together in some counts and Fieger alone in the remaining counts, with conspiracy; causing the Edwards Campaign to unwittingly make false statements; making illegal campaign contributions in the name of another; and making illegal campaign contributions from a corporation. Fieger was also charged with obstruction of justice. The maximum penalty for each charge of conspiracy, false statements, and illegal campaign contributions is up to five years in jail and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for the obstruction of justice charge is up to 10 years in jail, with the same maximum fine.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lynn Helland of the Eastern District of Michigan under the direction of Alan Gershel, chief of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Gershel is the acting U.S. Attorney in this case because U.S. Attorney Stephen Murphy has been recused from this investigation since late 2005. Also prosecuting the case is Trial Attorney M. Kendall Day of the Public Integrity Section, which is headed by Section Chief William M. Welch, II. This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the Internal Revenue Service.

An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.