Rep. Michael Grimm is blasting a report that claims he flagrantly violated a litany of federal campaign finance laws by bullying followers of a celebrity Jewish mystic into giving $500,000 to his 2010 campaign — and telling donors that he had ways of getting around rules that prevented him from accepting cash donations of more than $100 and receiving contributions from foreigners — but, in the same breath, wouldn’t answer any specific questions about his 2010 campaign donations.
In a bombshell article published over the weekend, the New York Times, a Manhattan newspaper, claimed Grimm (R–Bay Ridge) strong-armed followers of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto — many of them Israeli citizens — into feeding his campaign coffers. He also drove around with the holy man’s aide, Ofer Biton, who is currently under federal investigation, to solicit large cash donations, the Times said.
But Grimm, who spent the weekend stumping for GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney in Florida, flatly denied any wrongdoing and is challenging the Gray Lady’s credibility.
“It’s disappointing that such a story was allowed to go forward without evidence. I have dedicated my entire life to honorably serving this country from the US Marine Corps to the FBI and have conducted myself both as a candidate and a member of Congress by the same high standards,” he said in a prepared statement. “I will bring that same focus to continuing my work on behalf of my constituents while ensuring these allegations are shown to be the falsehoods they are.”
Yet Grimm wouldn’t respond to specific questions over the scathing charges raised in the article.
The Times claims that the hard-charging former FBI agent, who is a Roman Catholic, personally picked up an envelope stuffed with $5,000 while parked in a car near the FBI’s New York headquarters during the summer of 2010. The next week, the donor sent him a $5,000 check from a friend. But that wasn’t enough for Grimm, who called the contributor “repeatedly,” demanding another $10,000, the Times claimed.
“Every day, he used to call me, over and over,” the follower explained.
Campaign finance laws cap individual contributions to congressional candidates at $2,500, but Grimm and Biton allegedly told the rabbi’s followers that they could get around donation limits, and find ways to skirt other campaign finance laws.
The FBI is investigating charges that Biton embezzled millions from Rabbi Pinto’s congregation.
The Federal Elections Commission has not charged Grimm with the violations outlined in the Times report.
The money Grimm received from Rabbi Pinto’s followers helped fuel his 2010 campaign — and made up nearly half of all the individual contributions he received — but it certainly didn’t assure his victory: incumbent Rep. Michael McMahon (D–Bay Ridge) out-raised Grimm by more than two-to-one in 2010. Grimm ultimately beat McMahon riding a wave of Tea Party support and voter dissatisfaction with the then Democrat-controlled Congress.
Biton’s lawyer, Jeffrey Udell, refuted the Times claims along with Grimm.
“Mr. Biton has no knowledge about the alleged violation of any campaign finance laws by either himself or Congressman Grimm,” he told us on Sunday night.
This is not the first black eye the freshman lawmaker has suffered. Last year, the New Yorker accused him of violating his authority as an FBI agent when he waved his gun around and shouted racist comments during a 1999 brawl at a Caribbean club.Reach reporter Dan MacLeod at dmacleod@c