DETROIT – A former associate in trial attorney Geoffrey Fieger's firm said Friday that he and his wife each gave $2,000 to Democrat John Edwards' 2004 presidential campaign on the promise that they would be reimbursed by the firm.
Fieger, best known for defending assisted suicide advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian, is running for Michigan attorney general. On Wednesday, FBI and IRS agents raided his offices in suburban Detroit, taking payroll and other financial documents, as well as ticket stubs for an Edwards fund-raiser and other campaign materials.
Joseph Bird, an attorney fired from Fieger's firm over the summer, told The Associated Press that about two weeks after he joined the firm in 2003, partner Ven Johnson came into his office, closed the door and told him that he was expected to give to the Edwards campaign.
"I don't know what word to use — `urged,' `strongly suggested,' not quite `threatened,"' Bird said.
Bird said he brought in the checks the next day and was reimbursed two days later. He said he had "no clue" at the time that it was illegal for employers to instruct people to give to a campaign and then reimburse them.
Johnson said Bird's claim was "absolutely, blatantly false."
Fieger denied that he had anything to do with contributions by his employees to Edwards' campaign. Fieger said he fired Bird "because he was mentally ill" and was twice taken from the building on a stretcher after falsely claiming to be having a heart attack. He charged that Bird went to the FBI for revenge.
Bird, 49, said that he was carried out on a stretcher after suffering a blood clot in the lungs and that he was later taken to the hospital from the office two other times after suffering seizures. He said he was fired for not being productive enough during his illness.
Neither Bird nor Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Detroit, would comment on Bird's role in the investigation of Fieger.
Fourteen people listing Fieger's firm as their employer gave money to candidates in the 2004 presidential election. Thirteen of them gave to Edwards, according to a search of Political Money Line, a nonpartisan campaign finance tracking system. All of them — including a building manager and a courier supervisor — gave $2,000, the maximum individual contribution allowed in that campaign under federal law.
Fieger said the great support in his office for Edwards, a former trial lawyer, was no coincidence.
"I can't imagine a plaintiff's lawyer who would not support John Edwards," he said.