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Tax-evasion trial of New York congressman Grimm set for Dec. 1

By Bernard Vaughan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Tuesday set Dec. 1 as the start of the tax-evasion trial of New York congressman Michael Grimm, one month after an election in which the Republican seeks a third term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Grimm, a former FBI agent who represents parts of the city's boroughs of Brooklyn and Staten Island, appeared before Judge Pamela Chen in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. He did not speak during or after the hearing.

A lawyer for Grimm had asked Chen to schedule the trial in January, saying jurors could be prejudiced by negative attack advertisements from Democrats. A month's delay could provide "a cooling off period" after the Nov. 4 election, said the lawyer, Jeffrey Neiman.

"We're obviously in the heart of an election cycle," Neiman said.

Chen disagreed, saying biased jurors could be weeded out during jury selection.

Prosecutors had originally sought to start the trial in October, weeks ahead of the election.

Grimm was indicted in April on charges of fraud, perjury and conspiracy tied to his New York restaurant, Healthalicious.. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Grimm, 44, who lives on Staten Island, one of the city's rare Republican-leaning districts, has denied the charges. Grimm was elected in 2010 with a wave of conservative Tea Party Republicans advocating lower taxes and government spending, but he built a moderate voting record.

Meanwhile, a former fund-raiser for Grimm, Diana Durand, is due in Brooklyn federal court on Wednesday, when she is expected to plead guilty to violating the Federal Election Campaign Act, her lawyer Stuart Kaplan confirmed on Tuesday.

Earlier this year, prosecutors charged Durand with funneling campaign contributions to two candidates for the U.S. House in 2010 with the help of straw donors. Prosecutors did not name Grimm, but in May, when Durand initially pleaded not guilty, Kaplan confirmed Grimm was one of the candidates.

Kaplan said on Tuesday that Durand would not testify against Grimm at his trial.

"There is going to be a resolution to her case hopefully tomorrow, so that we can close this chapter of her life," Kaplan said.

Separate from the criminal proceedings, Grimm made headlines when he was caught on camera in January threatening to throw a reporter off a balcony in the U.S. Capitol, saying: "I'll break you in half. Like a boy."

(Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Eric Beech)

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