Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that Staten Island Congressman Michael Grimm, a former F.B.I. agent, raised over $500,000 in campaign money with the help of a man now under investigation—by the F.B.I.—for embezzlement. The man, Ofer Biton, was a close associate of an Orthodox rabbi in New York City, outside of Mr. Grimm’s district. The story reports that Biton and Grimm went door to door, soliciting money from the rabbi’s congregants, often in cash and sometimes in amounts greater than allowed under campaign law:
One follower of the rabbi said in an interview that Mr. Grimm pressed him for $20,000. The follower said Mr. Grimm instructed him to meet him “near the F.B.I. building,” in Lower Manhattan, in summer 2010 to give the money. The follower said he handed over $5,000 in cash in an envelope to Mr. Grimm in Mr. Grimm’s car.
Within a week, the follower said, he gave Mr. Grimm a $5,000 check from a friend. Mr. Grimm then repeatedly called the follower and demanded another $10,000, the follower said.
“Every day, he used to call me, over and over,” the follower said.
The follower said he ignored the calls and did not give again.
A second follower recalled that Mr. Grimm came to his office in Manhattan to solicit a legal contribution. As he was handing over the check, the second follower said, Mr. Grimm confided in him that there were ways of working around the campaign rules.
The story is well-reported (and includes a strange link to Lebron James), and worth reading in full. But the part that rang most familiar to me was Grimm’s response:
“Any suggestion that I was involved in any activities that may run afoul of the campaign finance laws is categorically false and belied by my life of public service protecting and enforcing the laws of this country,” Mr. Grimm said in the statement on Friday.
In 2011, I reported on Grimm’s career “enforcing the laws of this country,” including allegations—substantiated by witnesses including a former N.Y.P.D. officer, but denied by Grimm—that Grimm had misused his authority at a nightclub. My story was largely about Grimm’s work with a dubious F.B.I. informant and con-man known as Josef von Habsburg. When I tried to question Grimm on both matters in his Washington office, he ended our interview by saying, “you don’t rate to come here and question me.” He declined to provide myself or the New Yorker’s fact-checking department any evidence to support his denials. When the story came out, he claimed the article was a Democratic Party plot.
In light of the most recent allegations against Grimm, I’m reposting my New Yorker piece.