SI Congressman Fundraising Scrutinized: Report

Rep. Michael Grimm's ties to the aide of an influential rabbi is being scrutinized for possible illegal campaign donations.

Sunday, Jan 29, 2012  |  Updated 11:28 AM EDT
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SI Congressman Fundraising Scrutinized

AP

Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y.

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 A congressman representing Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn collected half a million dollars from supporters of an Orthodox rabbi and mystic from Israel whose aide is now being investigated by the F.B.I, reports the New York Times.

 
Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto supported Rep. Michael Grimm, a former agent with the F.B.I and devout Catholic, when he ran for Congress in 2010.
 
The New York Times reports that Grimm traveled around the New York area with one of the rabbi's top aides, Ofer Biton, to raise money for his campaign. Through numerous interviews and an analysis of Grimm's campaign records, the paper says he collected more than $500,000 from the Rabbi's followers.
 
That's more than half the total Grimm raised from individual donors, and -- along with support from high-profile Republican figures -- was instrumental in his upset of the Democratic incumbent, Michael McMahon.
 
But now the F.B.I is investigating Biton, an Israeli citizen, over accusations he embezzled millions of dollars from Rabbi Pinto's congregation. 
 
The Times investigated Biton's influence and fund-raising during Grimm's campaign, speaking with over a dozen followers and associates of the rabbi about the political contributions.
 
Three of the followers told the paper in separate interviews that Grimm and Biton told them that the campaign would find a way to accept donations that were over the legal limit, were given in cash or were given by those without green cards -- all illegal campaign donating practices.
 
Congressional campaigns cannot accept cash donations over $100. It is also illegal for foreigners with green cards to donate to a campaign.
 
Another follower said Grimm pressed him for a $20,000 donation, and instructed him to meet him in Manhattan to exchange $5,000 in cash. Grimm, the rabbi said, kept calling him to donate more money, even after he solicited another $5,000 from a friend.
 
Many of the followers told the paper that Biton helped round up campaign money for Grimm in the hopes that, if he won, Grimm would help Biton obtain a green card.
 
Other congressional candidates, including the former Congressman Anthony Weiner and Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, have solicited donations from Pinto's congregation -- but Grimm received the most donations, by far.
 
In a statement sent to the paper Friday, Rep. Grimm said "any suggestion that I was involved in any activities that may run afoul of the campaign finance laws is categorically false and belied by my life of public service protecting and enforcing the laws of this country."
 
A spokesman for Rabbi Pinto said the rabbi met with Grimm but was not aware of how aggressively his aide Biton was in collecting campaign contributions.
 

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