After a week of tight-lipped silence, state Sen. Carl Kruger is finally speaking out about the FBI’s probe into his campaign practices, saying that he’s just an innocent patsy despite allegations that he sold his sizable political clout at high-priced fundraisers.
“All I know is that I’m a victim in this whole thing,” Kruger (D–Sheepshead Bay) said about the arrest of local restaurateur Michael Levitis, who was caught on tape telling another restaurant owner that the senator would take care of his problems if he held a fundraiser.
In this case, though, Levitis was just bragging that he knew Kruger, the senator said.
“This guy went around boasting that he knew me and made representations that the government saw right through,” Kruger said.
Kruger claimed that the federal government isn’t investigating his campaign, even though Levitis, the manager of the Rasputin Supper Club on Coney Island Avenue and Avenue X, allegedly agreed to help funnel $2,000 to Jason Koppel, Kruger’s chief of staff, from the other restaurateur, who was acting as an agent for the FBI.
It was unclear if Koppel ever received the money from Levitis, who allegedly managed to swindle $1,000 out of the eatery owner for acting as a go-between. Levitis was ultimately arrested for lying to federal investigators about the incriminating recordings.
A spokesman from the U.S. Attorney’s office said he could not confirm or deny that Kruger was off the FBI’s radar, but a source close to the case said that the powerful Senate Finance Committee chairman was still under the microscope.
“It’s 100 percent false [that Kruger’s been cleared by the FBI],” the source said. “Kruger’s attorney called up one of the investigators and asked him the status of the case, but the detective could not say. Now [Kruger] goes around saying he was cleared knowing that the U.S. Attorney isn’t allowed to respond.”
High profile criminal defense attorney Benjamin Brafman, who represented Sean “P-Diddy” Combs and NFL star Plaxico Burress before representing Kruger, refuted the source’s statement.
“I have confirmed as recently as this week that Sen. Kruger is not the target of the investigation,” he said. “Because of who he is, they looked at him very carefully when the allegations first arose and they do not expect that he or anyone on his staff will ever be charged with any wrongdoing.”
Brafman said that Levitis used Kruger’s name “without his authorization.”
“He suggested he had access to him to enhance his own standing in the community,” Brafman said. “There is nothing a political figure can do to protect themselves from that.”
“At no time did [the FBI] think I was getting the money or that I was nothing more than a pawn in this chess game,” he said, describing Levitis as a “casual acquaintance” — one from whom he received more than $8,000 in contributions and fund-raising services since 2006, according to campaign filings.
“I have thousands of contributors and, like every elected official around the country, I intercede in government matters and cut through the political red tape for my constituents,” he said. “But there’s no guaranteed quid pro quo.”
That’s not what Levitis said when he recommended that the restaurateur working with the FBI make a donation to Kruger’s campaign. In turn, Kruger would make the eatery owner’s problems with the State Liquor Authority go away, he alleged.
“To start off, you have to throw in a few thousand,” Levitis explained during a conversation on April 14, 2009. “[It] depends on whether the problem is big or small. How much work he has to put in.”
On Sept. 18, Levitis contacted the undercover restaurateur again, claiming that his hearing with the State Liquor Authority was postponed for two weeks.
“So for now you can still work,” Levitis explained. “He asked that you do a fundraiser. I said ‘Help first.’ But he does want you to do a fundraiser.”
Levitis was arrested after denying the conversation with the informant took place, even though investigators had everything on tape.
His attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said that he and his client was “fighting the case with all of our might.”
With help from Levitis and many others, Kruger now has $2.1 million to spend on his re-election. He won his last “race” with 93 percent of the vote.