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Ex-fundraiser for US Rep. Grimm pleads guilty to campaign violations

By Bernard Vaughan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former fundraiser for embattled U.S. Representative Michael Grimm of New York pleaded guilty on Wednesday to funneling illegal contributions to the Republican's 2010 campaign.

Diana Durand, 48, admitted that she violated the Federal Election Campaign Act by directing more than $10,000 in campaign contributions to two candidates for the House of Representatives in 2010 with the help of straw donors. Her lawyer, Stuart Kaplan, has confirmed that Grimm was one of the candidates.

Durand, a resident of Houston, appeared on Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson in Brooklyn.

"I knowingly and willingly advanced payments to the straw donors," Durand said during the hearing.

Sterling set Durand's sentencing date for Feb. 20. Prosecutor Anthony Capozzolo told Sterling that the government would not object to Durand's request for a sentence of probation.

Her plea comes a day after a judge in the same court set Dec. 1 as the start of Grimm's trial for tax evasion.

Grimm, a former U.S. Marine and FBI agent who represents parts of New York City's boroughs of Brooklyn and Staten Island, was elected in 2010.

In April, Grimm was indicted on charges of fraud, perjury and conspiracy tied to a Manhattan health food restaurant he partly owned, Healthalicious. The charges followed a federal probe of Grimm's fundraising.

After the hearing, Kaplan said Durand would not testify against Grimm and said there was no evidence that Grimm was complicit in the campaign donations. Durand and Grimm were close friends, Kaplan said, but are no longer communicating with each other.

Durand's plea "should have no effect whatsoever" on Grimm's trial, Kaplan said.

In a press release, Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said prosecutors and the FBI "will aggressively pursue anyone who attempts to circumvent federal campaign financing laws."

(Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; editing by G Crosse and Leslie Adler)

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