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Ex-fundraiser for U.S. Representative Grimm says not guilty of campaign violations

By Bernard Vaughan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Texas woman pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of arranging illegal contributions to the 2010 campaign of embattled U.S. Representative Michael Grimm, a New York Republican.

Diana Durand, a former fundraiser for Grimm, pleaded not guilty in New York to charges of funneling more than $10,000 to two candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010 with the help of straw donors, in violation of a federal law that capped individual contributions to political candidates at $4,800.

The three-count indictment handed down last month does not name Grimm, though Durand's lawyer, Stuart Kaplan, confirmed after Monday's hearing at federal court in Brooklyn that Grimm was one of the candidates in question.

Grimm, elected with a wave of conservative "Tea Party Republicans" in November 2010, faces his own legal challenges. He was indicted in the same courthouse last week on fraud charges in connection with a Manhattan fast-food restaurant he partly owned.

Prosecutors said Durand reimbursed straw donors after they contributed $4,800 to the campaigns at her request. She had previously made the maximum contribution to Grimm in her own name, according to the complaint.

Prosecutors did not comment on the identity of either candidate. Kaplan said he did not know who the second candidate was.

The complaint filed against Durand included an excerpt from an April 2010 e-mail in which prosecutors said she thanked two straw donors, who use someone else's money to make campaign contributions in their own name.

"I was hoping for my birthday you will just let me forget about paying you back," Durand wrote, before typing a happy face emoticon. "Just kidding!"

Durand told the judge she understood the charges, but spoke little.

Kaplan told reporters he expected the case to go to trial and that prosecutors would have to prove that Durand was "willful and knowing" of the illegality of any of her actions.

"My client is not a sophisticated woman," Kaplan said.

Durand and Grimm also had "a very close" and "mutual" relationship, Kaplan said, though he declined to say if it was romantic.

Grimm, a former U.S. Marine who subsequently worked as an FBI agent, has vowed to "fight tooth and nail" against the fraud charges he faces.

(Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; editing by G Crosse and Scott Malone)

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