Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 23, 2007

8th Circuit Upholds Conviction and Jail Time for City Council Member Who Accepted Gratuities Related to Zoning Matters

Although this case is a criminal law matter, dealing with statutory elements and burdens of proof for various federal criminal statutes, the underlying facts demonstrate yet again the ethical lapses that can unfortunately occur in the planning and zoning decision making arena.  The analysis of the criminal law is not provided here, just a recitation of examples of poor judgment on the part of the local official. 

City Councilman Gary Zimmerman, who represented the sixth ward, was a member of the Council’s zoning and planning committee.  Having recently initiated [unsuccessful] litigation over a redistricting plan at a cost of approximately $100,000 for himself and fourteen other plaintiffs, Zimmerman met real estate developer Gary Carlson who was planning a multimillion dollar mixed use project known as Chicago Commons.  Carlson knew his project faced community opposition and that it was located in the 8th ward, across from Zimmerman’s ward. Carlson met Zimmerman at city hall a couple of times at City Hall but they never engaged in substantive conversation.  The third time they met, however, at a groundbreaking ceremony, Zimmerman solicited Carlson for the $100,000 he and his colleagues incurred in legal fees. Carlson offered to negotiate the fee on Zimmerman’s behalf, to which Zimmerman suggested $40,000 could make the matter go away. When the two ran into each other again, Zimmerman asked Carlson whether he had given any thought to the matter, after which Carlson went to the FBI and began acting as a cooperating witness.  

While wearing a wire, Carlson requested Zimmerman’s help to lobby planning commission members in advance of the upcoming vote on his rezoning application. Zimmerman agreed and Carlson said he would give Zimmerman some help and asked what he could do, to which Zimmerman replied “money, money, money” and asked for four or five thousand dollars as a demonstration of good faith.  Carlson proposed, “Okay.  You give me your vote, get me that vote, and get me my help through there.  I’ll take care of you.  Okay?” Zimmerman replied “Okay. You got it.” Later Zimmerman spoke of the limit on campaign contributions of $300 per person, and he suggested that Carlson donate in the names of his “cousins.”

The next time they met, Carlson was wearing a recording device and a hidden camera.  He handed Zimmerman $5,000 , and the conversation that followed focused on Carlson’s rezoning issue and what could be done at the planning and zoning committee in light of the planning commission’s decision to recommend denial of the application, and Zimmerman suggested that Carlson use straw donors to make contributions to his campaign, further suggesting that Carlson pay them a little more to say the contributions came from them. Carlson’s application was subsequently denied by the committee and the full Council, and Carlson asked Zimmerman what happened and referred to the $5,000 he had given to him.   Zimmerman explained the reasons why there was strong opposition to the project. 

A month later, the two met as Carlson wanted to develop another project, and asked for Zimmerman’s help in getting the project through the City Council.  Carlson gave Zimmerman $1,200 in campaign contribution envelops with the names of four donors, and indicated he has given them something extra so they would verify the contributions were made by them.  Two weeks later, Carlson went to Zimmerman’s home and gave him $1,000 in an unmarked campaign contribution envelop suggesting that the money was people who wanted Zimmerman reelected and he told Zimmerman to write the names in himself.  Carlson further stated, “That’s for getting us the zoning there…” Zimmerman replied, “So…alright.”   A week later, when Zimmerman thought he was going to meet Carlson, he was greeted by two FBI agents. 

The final analysis: Zimmerman was indicted and then convicted of knowingly and corruptly soliciting something of value with intent to be influenced or rewarded in connection with the business of the government of the City of Minneapolis in violation of 18 U.S.S. sec. 666(a)(1)(B).   He we convicted on three of the four counts and sentenced by the District Court to thirty months on each count, to be served consecutively.  The Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the convictions. 

 U.S. v. Zimmerman, 2007 WL 4372843 (C.A. 8(Minn.)12/17/2007).  The case can also be accessed at:


  1. Corruption is rare in Minnesota. In reality, as a Minnesota real estate agent, I can state that most people are honest.

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