The Defendant's Lawyer Tries to Prosecute the Mayor

Mayor Bloomberg takes the stands in the grand larceny trial of a campaign consultant

By Gabe Pressman
|  Monday, Oct 3, 2011  |  Updated 6:45 PM EDT
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The Defendant's Lawyer Tries to Prosecute the Mayor

AP

In this courtroom drawing, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, center, takes the stand in the courtroom of Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Ronald Zweibel, upper right, in New York, Monday, Oct. 3, 2011. Bloomberg testified against John Haggerty, a former campaign operative accused of bilking Bloomberg out of more than $1 million, then underwent hours of cross-examination by a defense lawyer who questioned whether he had skirted the law and came close to calling the billionaire politician a liar. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams)

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg took the witness stand in the Criminal Courts Building as a prosecution witness in the trial of John F. Haggerty Jr., who’s accused of stealing $1.1 million from Bloomberg.

But Haggerty’s lawyer, Raymond Castello, seemed at times to be painting the mayor as a defendant, not a victim. Castello’s strategy was to charge, in effect, that Bloomberg had spent a whopping amount of money to buy his third term -- and Haggerty, a consultant,  pocketed some of it. T

It seemed as though the lawyer was trying to describe the mayor less as the man against whom grand larceny was committed than as the perpetrator of an immoral effort to win the election of 2009 by pouring scads of money into it.

The 11th floor courtroom was packed. Extra chairs had to be brought in to seat the press and many other people who wanted to hear the mayor testify. Bloomberg, wearing a navy suit and a red tie, answered tough questions calmly. He seemed less testy with the defense lawyer than he is at some press conferences at City Hall.

Yet, near the end of two hours of testimony,  Castello became more prosecutorial in tone -- and the mayor was showing some signs of impatience or anger.

Apparently trying to cast doubt on the mayor’s ability to hire good consultants, Castello asked Bloomberg: are you familiar with something called CityTime? Laughter erupted in the courtroom. CityTime was the company hired to help automate the city’s payroll system. Amid charges of scandal, several outside consultants were indicted.

This, of course, has nothing to do with the charges against Haggerty. He’s accused of grand larceny in using much of the $1.1 million the mayor thought he was contributing for ballot security to buy himself a house in Queens. The mayor admits he was duped.

But he didn’t show particular hostility to Haggerty for doing the duping. Bloomberg ‘s demeanor was generally calm even though Castello clearly was trying to get under Bloomberg’s skin.

Castello, seeming to range far afield, suddenly asking Bloomberg whether former Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith,  who resigned after a domestic violence charge in Washington, had quit because he mishandled the blizzard.

“Absolutely not, “ the mayor asserted. "You couldn’t be more wrong.”

At another point just before he left the witness stand, Castello pressed  Bloomberg: “Didn’t you just use the term ‘gift’ to describe the payment to the Independence Party?” Castello asked.

“I don’t know  what the technical term is; we sent money to the Independence Party and $1.1 million was going to be spent for ballot security.” the Mayor said with an air of impatience.

Castello persisted: “Didn’t you use the tem gift to describe the 1.1 milllion?”

Bloomberg’s reply: It was payment for services “and, as far as I understand, somebody just took it for themselves.”

In the exchanges between Castello and Bloomberg, the jurors were transfixed.  "Watching the back and forth like spectators at a tennis match,” is how the Times described it.

Overall, the battle between the lawyer and the mayor showed that Bloomberg doesn’t always have a quick temper. Maybe, as one journalist put it, he’s quicker to anger at reporters than at political operatives.

Another lesson of the day: the mayor sometimes has a bad memory for dates and people.  Again and again in response to questions about happenings along the campaign trail of 2009, he said he couldn’t recall or couldn’t remember. But,as Castello pursued the matter, Bloomberg revealed that many of his closest advisers were deeply involved in the campaign. It was clear he was determined to win his third term and would spend whatever necessary to make that happen.

One thing that emerged from the courtroom session: The Independence Party can be very dependent -- on contributors like Bloomberg. It’s a tiny, splinter party.

But it certainly seems quite willing to accept money from the multi-billionaire mayor.   

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