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Bachmann returns money from Petters associate

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The congressional campaign of Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., has returned $14,000 in campaign cash from a Florida businessman who was an associate of Tom Petters, the Twin Cities businessman convicted in a high-profile $3.6 billion Ponzi scheme case.

Bachmann's camp sent the money to the bankruptcy trustee for Frank Vennes, a longtime Bachmann supporter, the Star Tribune reports. Bachmann returned the money after the Vennes trustee asked for the money back.

Vennes pleaded guilty in February to securities fraud and money laundering related to money Vennes had raised for investment in Petters' company.

Petters is seeking to appeal his 50-year prison sentence.

Vennes and Bachmann have a long history. He had been in prison previously, after he was snared in an Internal Revenue Service sting in Minnesota in 1986. He went to prison shortly thereafter for money laundering and firearms- and cocaine-related offenses, ProPublica reported.

After he got out, Vennes remade his life, set up a finance company, became religious and made a number of high-profile connections, ProPublica notes. He also made some big campaign contributions, including $26,000 to Bachmann's campaign. He gave her an additional $9,000 after she sent a letter on his behalf to the White House as he sought a pardon for previous crimes.

She later withdrew the letter when investigators tied Vennes to Petters.

In all, trustees have been trying to recover an estimated $500,000 in contributions made by Petters and his associates to a long list of politicians who include Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Sen. Norm Coleman, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Bachmann, the Star Tribune notes. Most of the contributions, including Bachmann’s, were returned or given to charity, the newspaper reports.

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