Tax-evasion trial of New York congressman Grimm set for December 1

By Bernard Vaughan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Tuesday set Dec. 1 as the start of the tax-evasion trial of New York congressman Michael Grimm, one month after an election in which the Republican seeks a third term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Grimm, a former FBI agent who represents parts of the city's boroughs of Brooklyn and Staten Island, appeared before Judge Pamela Chen in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. He did not speak during or after the hearing.

A lawyer for Grimm had asked Chen to schedule the trial in January, saying jurors could be prejudiced by negative attack advertisements from Democrats. A month's delay could provide "a cooling off period" after the Nov. 4 election, said the lawyer, Jeffrey Neiman.

"We're obviously in the heart of an election cycle," Neiman said.

Chen disagreed, saying biased jurors could be weeded out during jury selection.

Prosecutors had originally sought to start the trial in October, weeks ahead of the election.

Grimm was indicted in April on charges of fraud, perjury and conspiracy tied to his New York restaurant, Healthalicious.. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Grimm, 44, who lives on Staten Island, one of the city's rare Republican-leaning districts, has denied the charges. Grimm was elected in 2010 with a wave of conservative Tea Party Republicans advocating lower taxes and government spending, but he built a moderate voting record.

Meanwhile, a former fund-raiser for Grimm, Diana Durand, is due in court on Wednesday to enter a plea related to charges that she arranged illegal contributions to his 2010 campaign, according to a court calendar. In May, Durand pleaded not guilty to the charges. Her lawyer was not immediately available for comment.

Separate from the criminal proceedings, Grimm made headlines when he was caught on camera in January threatening to throw a reporter off a balcony in the U.S. Capitol, saying: "I'll break you in half. Like a boy."

(Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Eric Beech)