Politics

01.29.14

Rep. ‘Break You in Half’ Grimm Is a Hothead With a Shady Past

Before the Republican from Staten Island threatened to beat up a reporter, he brandished a gun at a nightclub and threatened to punch voters who don’t like him.

For anyone who has followed Staten Island Congressman Michael Grimm’s career, the fact that he would threaten to throw a television reporter off the Congressional balcony after the State of the Union, saying “I will break you in half” and “you’re not man enough…like a boy” should not come as a surprise.

Grimm was elected to the House in 2010, riding a Tea Party wave to best a one-term Democratic incumbent.  And even then, in the tight-knit community of Staten Island, where politicians couldn’t get elected to the city council unless their grandparents can be accounted for, Grimm was a newcomer, and something of a mystery.

His resume sounded to good to be true. Grimm is a U.S. Marine who served in the first Gulf War, turned FBI agent (colleagues nicknamed him “Mikey Suits” for his sharp outfits) who went undercover to bring down a Mafia ring, turned small businessman. He is Catholic, but raised a boatload of money from people associated with a mystical rabbi who advised LeBron James and spent most of his time in Israel.

Democrats always thought something didn’t add up—why did he quit the FBI? Why was he photographed in his U.S. Army uniform wearing medals he hadn’t seemed to earn? How did he know the rabbi? Why did the businesses keep failing?

Nothing stuck and the questions kept coming, even as he easily won a second term in 2012. There was the long New Yorker article in 2011 about the difficulty of relying on confidential informants for police work, and that included details about Grimm’s time at the FBI, including how the now-congressman pulled out a gun in an altercation at a nightclub, only to return a few hours later, brandish the weapon again, and instructed that “all the white people get out of here.”

Grimm promised one of Pinto’s top deputies help with his immigration issues if the aide helped Grimm skirt campaign finance laws.

Then there was the report that one of Grimm’s business partners from an energy concern in Texas was convicted of stealing $2 million from customers. News that the securities firm where he worked after his FBI gig was “sanctioned repeatedly by regulators for gouging customers.” His health restaurant was being sued for paying employees off the books and below minimum wage.

There was the time he got into a nearly physical confrontation with a voter who disagreed with him at a supermarket. After another nearly physical fight with some hecklers at a Memorial Day parade, Bill de Blasio, then NYC’s public advocate and now its mayor, said at the time that Grimm was “doing the scandal variety show. Always a new one to look at every week.”

The reason Grimm threatened to break in half television reporter Michael Scotto was because, Scotto, who works for the local cable news station NY1, asked Grimm after the State of the Union address about a scandal that has been dogging him for over a year. It concerns Rabbi Pinto, who provided the gateway to Grimm’s massive fundraising before his first run for office. According to several reports, Grimm promised one of Pinto’s top deputies help with his immigration issues if the aide helped Grimm skirt campaign finance laws. According to the allegations Grimm more than once accepted cash-stuffed envelopes, and the FBI and the House Ethics Committee are investigating. And two weeks ago, federal agents arrested another one of Grimm’s associates, a Texas woman accused of funneling thousands of illegal campaign contributions to him.

Grimm of course has denied wrongdoing, calling the numerous inquiries into his behavior little more than a partisan witch-hunt, which by Grimm’s standards, is actually pretty tame.