Rep. Michael Grimm is distancing himself from a former fund-raiser nabbed on immigration fraud charges — a political operative many claim collected illegal campaign donations for the former Marine and FBI agent.
The FBI took Ofer Biton, a former aide to Manhattan Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, into custody on Aug. 17, but Grimm says he has nothing to do with the charges. He also claimed Biton never raised any money for him during his 2010 election, even though a scathing New York Times article published earlier this year outlined how the two men allegedly strong-armed Pinto’s followers into contributing to the freshman legislator’s campaign.
“He was not my fund-raiser,” Grimm said, noting that a Congressional Ethics Committee cleared him of the allegations months ago. “Any donations that I received from followers of the Rabbi were respectfully and legally obtained.”
Grimm said that he and Biton never worked together, even though contributors say the two collected large cash donations from Pinto’s followers — many of whom were Israeli citizens who couldn’t contribute to an American political campaign.
“I will state yet again for the record that the bogus allegations lodged against me are 100 percent baseless and any fair inquiry will reveal that,” Grimm said. “Attempting to tie me to this immigration-related arrest, is dishonest, malicious and evidence of how dirty politics is the weapon of choice by my opponents.”
Yet Grimm’s critics don’t believe the legislator — and are demanding he return the $500,000 Biton allegedly raised for him.
“If Grimm fails to return the money, he will be making it clear that he is unfit to serve in Congress,” said Mark Murphy, a Democrat who will be running against Grimm in November. “The scandals and unanswered questions continue to grow, while his willingness to tell the truth continues to shrink.”
Political insiders say that Murphy is eager to make political hay out of Biton’s arrest, but do not think it will affect Grimm’s chances when the polls close on Election Day.
“It won’t impact Grimm’s campaign one whit,” said top political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “Just because the guy got arrested doesn’t mean you have to return the money. He was arrested for an immigration thing, not a money thing. It’s a jumbled argument and it speaks to desperation.”