U.S. News

Detroit lawyer charged for 2004 Edwards donations

DETROIT (Reuters) - Detroit attorney Geoffrey Fieger, best known for his high-profile defense of assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian, was charged on Friday with conspiring to channel $127,000 in illegal contributions to the 2004 presidential campaign of Democrat John Edwards.

Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards speaks at the Visible Vote '08 Presidential Forum sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and broadcast on the Logo Network in Hollywood, August 9, 2007. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

According to a federal indictment unsealed on Friday, Fieger, 56, and legal partner Vernon Johnson, 45, worked to solicit over 60 “straw donors” from among employees, their families and vendors to their firm in 2003 and 2004.

The indictment, which was returned by a grand jury on Tuesday, claims that Fieger then arranged to reimburse those “straw donors” for their contributions to Edwards in payments disguised as bonuses or payments for services.

Prosecutors said that constituted a conspiracy to skirt regulations barring corporate contributions to federal elections and limiting individual donors to $2,000 each.

Fieger faces up to 55 years in prison if convicted on all 10 counts in the indictment and fines of up to $2.5 million.

Campaign officials for Edwards, a former U.S. senator and trial lawyer, were unaware of those actions by Fieger at the time, prosecutors said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Edwards, who is running for president again in 2008, said the campaign would return the money if Fieger was found guilty.

“The 2004 Edwards for President campaign held itself to the highest standards and made every effort to comply with the legal requirements for campaign finance, as does the current campaign,” Edwards spokeswoman Colleen Murray said.

“We have and will continue to cooperate fully with the (Federal Election Commission) and the Department of Justice.”

Fieger released a statement saying that the charges against him were false and that the prosecution was politically motivated by the Republican Bush administration.

“The timing of these unprecedented charges, that have no support in fact or law, during the height of the presidential fund raising campaign, is solely intended to intimidate Democratic supporters around the country,” Fieger said.

An arraignment date has not been set in the case. Fieger will plead not guilty, his lawyer Gerry Spence said.

Known as a flamboyant and combative trial lawyer, Fieger shot to national fame in the 1990s after winning a string of acquittals for Kevorkian, a controversial assisted suicide advocate who became known as “Dr. Death.”

Kevorkian, who claimed he had assisted in some 130 deaths, was convicted in 1999 of second-degree murder at a trial in which he chose to represent himself. He was paroled in June.

Fieger ran unsuccessfully for governor of Michigan as a Democrat in 1998.