Bill Clinton's socialite pal Denise Rich (search) disguised a $2,000 donation to Hillary Rodham Clinton by coercing her record promoter to make the contribution and later reimbursing him, a new $30 million legal suit charges.
The promoter, Jimmy Hester (search), who filed the federal lawsuit in Manhattan yesterday, is now at the center of the FBI's long-running criminal probe into the circumstances surrounding Clinton's last-minute presidential pardoning of Rich's ex-husband, Marc Rich (search), The Post has learned.
Hester's criminal lawyer, Brad Simon, confirmed yesterday that FBI (search) agents interviewed Hester two weeks ago in New York.
Simon, who was not aware that Hester's allegation of Rich's "disguised" $2,000 donation had been included in the civil suit, declined to comment further, but sources said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Jim Comey (search) reactivated the Rich probe in recent months.
It is illegal for a person to make donations in another person's name to get around the $2,000 donation limit, Washington election-law expert Ken Gross said yesterday.
Rich, a wealthy songwriter, sparked a national scandal by helping her husband win the Clinton pardon in the last days of his presidency.
Marc Rich fled to Switzerland after being indicted on charges he evaded $48 million in taxes.
Hester -- who claims Denise Rich discriminated against him by sacking him because he's HIV-positive -- said in his suit that she insisted in October 1999 that he make the donation to Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton (search) was then gearing up to make her Senate run.
"It was clear to [Hester] that this demand was made so that Rich could disguise the source of the contribution," said Hester's civil lawyer, Pitkin Marshall.
Describing Rich's alleged behavior as "underhanded and unethical," Hester said he initially refused to make the donation but later gave in.
Rich's spokesman, Howard Rubenstein, declined to comment yesterday as Rich and her lawyer had not seen the legal papers. Rich is traveling overseas.
A spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton did not comment.
Hester, who is suing for $30 million in damages, was hired by Rich in April 1996 as general manager and vice president of songs for her music publishing company, IGD Music & Media. He was paid $240,000 a year.
He claims Rich forced him to make the donation while he was negotiating the terms of his employment contract. Rich had promised him a written employment contract and full medical coverage for years, he claims.
But during the final stages of negotiations in June 2001, Rich's lawyer, Lee Goldberg, altered the employment documents to make Hester an independent contractor, the suit says.
The following January, Hester was sacked one day after telling Rich he was HIV-positive.
The suit said Rich disguised the true reasons for sacking Hester by alleging he sexually harassed another employee Taquanna Harris. Rich paid Harris a $40,000 settlement.