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04.25.14

Grim Day for Staten Island Republican Congressman Facing Indictment

On Friday, lawyers for Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) announced that the Staten Island congressman expected to be indicted by the U.S. Attorney for campaign finance violations.

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) thought he had a bad day when he threatened a reporter on live television. Turns out that was easy.

On Friday afternoon, news broke that Grimm, who has long been under scrutiny for campaign finance irregularities related to his 2010 campaign, would be indicted. According to The New York Times, Grimm will be indicted under federal fraud charges related to a health food store that the congressman once owned in Manhattan. The investigation of the two-term Republican from Staten Island was originally focused on Grimm's relationship with Ofer Biton, an Israeli citizen who pleaded guilty to a visa violation last year, and whether Biton may have illegally funnelled money from supporters of an Israeli rabbi to his campaign. Another Grimm fundraiser and friend was arrested in January for allegedly making illegal contributions to his campaign.

While Grimm did not return messages left with his cell phone, Bill McGinley, Grimm’s attorney told The Daily Beast:

“After more than two years of investigation plagued by malicious leaks, violations of grand jury secrecy, and strong-arm tactics, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has disclosed its intent to file criminal charges against Congressman Grimm. We are disappointed by the government’s decision, but hardly surprised. From the beginning, the government has pursued a politically driven vendetta against Congressman Grimm and not an independent search for the truth. Congressman Grimm asserts his innocence of any wrongdoing.”

“The United States government is taking campaign finance violations much more seriously in the last few years,” said Jerry Goldfeder, a prominent election law attorney in New York. “So I’m very much interested to see the specific allegations if, in fact, he is indicted…I imagine he will continue his reelection bid.”

Republican and Conservative operatives viewed the indictment with some suspicion as a possible product of what they fear is a politicized Obama Adminstration. David Laska, a spokesman for the New York Republican Party said "The Holder Justice Department has been among the most political in history. We would all be wise to reserve judgment until more facts emerge." Laska's statement was echoed by Mike Long, the chair of the New York Conservative Party, a third party which has supported Grimm in past general elections under New York's electoral fusion laws. Long told The Daily Beast "I’m a believer in the American way that innocent till proven guilty and I really am very highly suspsicious of the timing of the announcement that they were going to indict him" as Friday was the last day a candidate could be voluntarily removed from the ballot under state election law. While Long was still not sure "if it could have or should have been done," he worried that the DOJ was making a decision based on "political timing" after what he called "two years of leaks and rumors" about the investigation.

The expected indictment sets up an opportunity for Democrats to knock off the only Republican now representing New York City. President Obama won Grimm’s district, which consists of Staten Island and part of Brooklyn, with 52 percent of the vote in 2012. As a result, Grimm’s Democratic opponent, former city councilman Domenic Recchia, was considered to be one of the party’s strongest challengers even before the indictment news. In a statement, Recchia said "In light [o]f today's news, it is important to let the federal authorities do their jobs and focus on this ongoing matter. I'm going to continue my focus on ensuring that the people of Staten Island and South Brooklyn have a voice in Congress fighting for their needs."

Grimm is also not the first congressman from Staten Island to face legal issues. Vito Fossella, the Republican who represented the district from 1997 to 2009,  was pulled over for drunk driving in 2008 while driving to the Virginia house of the mother of his illegitimate child at 12:15 a.m. on a Thursday. After the arrest and the exposure of the affair, Fossella decided not to seek reelection.