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September 9, 2005
Zimmerman Following In Herron's Footsteps? (Update!)

Dean Zimmerman took Brian Herron's spot on the Minneapolis City Council after the arrest and conviction of the latter on federal bribery charges. Now the Strib and the AP confirm that federal agents have their eyes on Zimmerman for the same kind of behavior, apparently having caught him in a sting operation assisted by an anonymous local developer:

A City Council member is being investigated for allegedly accepting bribes from a developer in exchange for help with zoning permits, according to court documents filed Friday.

Councilman Dean Zimmermann, a Green Party member seeking his second term, is accused of accepting thousands of dollars from the developer, who was working in cooperation with the FBI.

One payment was to help with attorney fees owed by Zimmermann, according to the document. Other payments were for the councilman's re-election campaign, the document said. The exchanges between Zimmermann and the developer were recorded on audio- and video tapes.

Agents took computers, personal records and a campaign mailing from Zimmermann's home Thursday.

Herron took money from Basim Sabri, one of a family of colorful developers in the Twin Cities area that have heavily invested in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region, especially in Little Somalia. Sabri also got convicted in that case and currently serves his time at Fort Leavenworth. However, that didn't keep the feds from raiding his offices again on Wednesday.

The two actions might just be coincidental, but the timing, as I wrote, looks very strange. At first, I thought that perhaps Sabri's family might have helped the feds sting Zimmerman. After all, his brother Hamoudi is also a developer -- but then why raid Basim's office now, especially when Basim hasn't been there for several months? The feds say they're looking for evidence of forgery of a mysterious letter proclaiming his innocence that surfaced during the penalty phase of his trial, but again, what are the chances that two unrelated federal investigations would result in raids within 24 hours of each other, involving people who have longstanding connections in the community?

The property in question that was apparently used to sting Zimmerman is a condo development on Chicago Avenue. The primary owner of that property is the Chicago Commons Project, run by Gary Carlson. One of its investors associates, though, turns out to be ... Azzam Sabri, Basim's older brother, and his competitor in development, especially in the Somali community. (See update II below.) Both men built strip malls that compete with each other.

It's still pretty early to know what might be happening with this case. However, the Sabris have a history of bad blood between the brothers of the clan, although they have supposedly buried the hatchet a few years ago. Azzam could have helped the feds go after Zimmerman in the hope of reducuing Basim's sentence. He could just as easily have targeted Zimmerman to get even with Basim and Hamoudi.

All I know right now is that it will get interesting soon.

UPDATE: The source for Azzam's involvement in Chicago Commons is Council VP Robert Lilligren, whose ward includes that project:

Gary Carlson of Edina is listed as the CEO of the Chicago Commons Corp., which owns and is developing the site, according to public records. He didn't return a phone message left at his home Thursday evening.

The site developer recently sought to bulk up the retail component of the project but was denied by the city's Planning Commission.

Lilligren said Azzam Sabri, a brother of imprisoned Lake Street developer Basim Sabri, has been somewhat involved in the project since the beginning. Azzam Sabri could not be reached Thursday evening for comment.

It's interesting that Lilligren would know this, but not all that suspicious. One would expect Lilligren to involve himself in the details of development in his ward and to promote it for jobs and expansion of the tax base. I find it more interesting that Lilligren wanted to point that out.

UPDATE II: Azzam worked for Chicago Commons as a consultant for a short time, according to one reader, but was never an investor. My apologies for the misunderstanding of Lilligren's quote.

UPDATE III: I poked around Google a bit, and found this interesting little factoid. Azzam Sabri spoke out in support of the Chicago Commons project in a public hearing of the city Planning Commission on June 21, 2004 (page 12). He doesn't disclose any relationship between himself and Chicago Commons, but it's not clear when Lilligren thinks Azzam got involved in the project.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 9, 2005 10:14 PM

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