Lawbreaker in Markell campaign finance case put on yearlong probation
Published: Monday, September 16, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 16, 2013 22:09
Dover developer Michael Zimmerman pleaded guilty last Tuesday in the state’s Supreme Court to illegal donations in support of Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s 2008 campaign.
Zimmerman, 56, was sentenced to one-year probation and instructed to pay a $21,600 fine as a result of his plea deal for making illegal contributions of at least $14,600 to the campaign under false names from his family members, business partners and himself, according to Marin Lessner, Markell’s attorney.
Under Delaware law, an individual can contribute $1,200 to candidates per election cycle, Lessner said. This rule also applies to individuals, such as property owner Zimmerman, who own 50 percent or more of a company and use that company to make a donation, he said.
Lessner said Zimmerman was given a memo explaining the limits on contributions when he expressed his interest in donating to the campaign.
The investigation into the illegal donations was first probed two years ago when former Delaware Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey was appointed by Attorney General Beau Biden to investigate Delaware liquor store executive, Christopher Tigani, Lessner said. Tigani pleaded guilty in May to two felony violations of campaign-finance law and was later sentenced to two years in federal prison for campaign finance fraud and tax evasion, Veasey said.
The Zimmerman controversy marks the third time in less than a year that Markell has faced questions about improper campaign contributions, Veasey said. He said they are looking into “the question of whether Markell or any campaign knew about or suggested reimbursement.”
Veasey also said there would be a report released at the end of the month that will provide specific information regarding the cases he has been working on for two years from Tigani.
“A more refined system for Delaware donor contributions is in the works,” Veasey said.
Lessner said Markell did not become aware of the illegal campaign donations made in support of Zimmerman until he was indicted on the charges. He said once Governor Markell and his staff learned about the donations, the money was donated to charity, including The Boys and Girls Club of Delaware and the Kingswood Community Center.
“The Markell for Delaware campaign has no interest in receiving or benefiting from contributions made in violation of Delaware law and has donated any improper contributions it has been made aware of to charity,” Lessner said.
Veasey said he thought Markell did the “right thing” by donating the money to charity.
For students such as sophomore Jack Wallice, Markell’s reputation has not diminished by the incident.
“Markell is a trustworthy governor, and I am proud to be included in the state of Delaware,” Wallice said.