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“Rep Michael Grimm, Tax Evader”: The Felon Who Wouldn’t Leave Congress

Michael Grimm just got re-elected to Congress in November, so why should he resign over a minor detail like pleading guilty to a felony?

As first reported by the New York Daily News, the Staten Island Republican will plead guilty to one count of tax evasion in federal court on Tuesday afternoon. Grimm, who was indicted in April on 20 counts of fraud and tax evasion stemming from a health food store he once owned, is apparently going to try to keep his seat in Congress. While he said during his re-election campaign that he would resign if “unable to serve,” initial reports indicate the Republican congressman does not think his conviction should keep him from serving his constituents in New York’s 13th District.

The news that Grimm was set to plead guilty sent shockwaves through the leadership of the Republican Party on Staten Island. The two-term congressman cruised to re-election in November despite the ethical allegations swirling around him, besting former city council member Domenic Recchia by 12 points. Grimm had planned on regaining his Financial Services Committee membership, which he gave up under pressure when he was first indicted. Grimm has even been actively trying hire staff members for his office in recent weeks after several former aides deserted him.

Reached by phone after news of Grimm’s plea broke online, Guy Molinari, a longtime Island powerbroker and personal patron of Grimm’s, said he had not heard the news and declined to comment. The office of House Speaker John Boehner also declined to comment. John Antoniello, the chairman of the Staten Island Republican Party, said he had not been informed either but that the party continues to support Grimm.

Meanwhile, politicos were already trying to figure out their next play. Some Staten Islanders predicted that Boehner would only try to oust Grimm if he thought that the seat was likely to stay in Republican hands—a good prospect, many analysts suggested, considering Grimm’s easy win the last time.

The name that most Republicans seem both to expect and dread to consider running is Vito Fossella. The former congressman, a longtime fixture in Staten Island politics, stepped down when it was revealed after a drunk driving arrest that he had a second family in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. The Republican has frequently sparred with Grimm and thought about running in 2014, but it remains to be seen whether Fossella can withstand the scrutiny of another run, even in an era when scandal-scarred New York pols like Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer have come back to run again.

“Does he have the balls to run again after someone resigns over ethical issues?” asked one Staten Island Democrat.

Daniel Donovan, the well-regarded Staten Island district attorney who has come under criticism for failing to win an indictment in the Eric Garner case, is not widely thought to want to leave his post.

On the Democratic side, many expect former Rep. Mike McMahon to make another run at the seat. McMahon took over when Fossella resigned but was edged aside two years later by Grimm in the Tea Party wave election year of 2010.

Neither McMahon nor Fossella returned calls for comment.

In the meantime, Grimm faces no legal pressure to leave office. There is no requirement for a member of Congress to resign after pleading guilty to a felony. However, House Rule XXIII suggests that a representative who has been convicted of an offense that may result in at least two years’ imprisonment should “refrain from voting.” A report by the Congressional Research Service notes that members are “expected to abide” by this rule, even though it is technically advisory.  Tax evasion carries a maximum penalty of five years, and thus it seems likely that Grimm would be covered by the provision. Tom Rust, a spokesman for the House Ethics Committee, declined to comment to The Daily Beast.

Grimm could be forced from office if he is expelled by a two-thirds vote of the House. The penalty is only rarely imposed, as members often resign before they can be voted out of Congress. Only two members of the House have been expelled since the Civil War, and no one has ever been expelled for a felony committed prior to serving in Congress. As the Congressional Research Service notes, an offense leading to expulsion “has historically involved either disloyalty to the United States or the violation of a criminal law involving the abuse of one’s official position, such as bribery.” Interestingly, if Grimm is expelled, he is not legally prohibited from running in the special election for his seat. And if he is re-elected, the House advisory rules prohibiting him from voting no longer apply.

Should Grimm choose to fight back under those circumstances, he would likely have an easy go of it on Staten Island, considering his clear win in November and the fact that he is pleading guilty to a lesser charge. “Voters knew about this and seemed not to care,” said Roy Moskowitz, a leading Democratic consultant on Staten Island.

Still, his conviction will restart a House Ethics Committee investigation into his actions. The bipartisan committee had originally started to probe Grimm in 2012 but had then deferred any action after a request by the Justice Department. Once Grimm has pleaded guilty, it is unlikely the Justice Department will have any qualms about the House Ethics Committee resuming its investigation. Further, the committee’s rules mandate that it “shall” begin an investigation as soon as a member of Congress is sentenced in federal court.

The conviction won’t be Grimm’s first brush with notoriety. The congressman has been investigated in the past for campaign finance irregularities involving an Israeli businessman who allegedly illegally funneled money to Grimm’s campaign. He also sparked controversy earlier in 2014 when he threatened a reporter on live television after President Obama’s State of the Union address by saying, “I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.”


By: Ben Jacobs and David Freedlandlander, The Daily Beast, December 22, 2014

December 23, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Felons, Michael Grimm | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Entitled, Unhinged Nightmare”: The Real Problem With Dangerous Goon Michael Grimm

New York Rep. Michael Grimm is an unstable, possibly dangerous goon. That much was obvious in the video in which he corners and threatens NY1 reporter Michael Scotto. His act may not have surprised readers of the New Yorker’s 2011 profile of Grimm, which describes the 1999 night that Grimm, brandishing a gun, terrorized a nightclub full of people in search of a man with whom he’d fought earlier. Grimm’s propensity for abusive language and ridiculous macho posturing was also well-known to New York and Washington reporters.

Grimm’s actions that night at the Caribbean Tropics nightclub in Queens would have likely put a regular citizen in jail for years. But Grimm was not a regular citizen: He was an FBI agent at the time, and thus, after an internal investigation, he received no punishment at all. (The NYPD has declined repeated requests to release public records related to the incident.)

A former political opponent of Grimm’s, Mark Murphy, shared his explanation of Grimm’s behavior with TPM’s Hunter Walker:

Mark Murphy, a Democrat who lost a House race against Grimm in 2012, spoke to TPM and said that while he has no direct evidence he believes that steroid use is responsible for multiple incidents where Grimm and a man he described as the congressman’s “bodyguard” have lost their cool.

“These guys are wrapped so tight from the steroids that they’re on, it’s insane,” Murphy said.

Murphy could be purely speculating, or passing on rumors. But it’s not a wildly far-fetched theory. Steroid use in law enforcement is nearly impossible to study, because cops operate under a quasi-state-sanctioned code of silence regarding one another’s misdeeds, but it seems pervasive, and officers are busted regularly in cities across the country. Two NYPD deputy chiefs were even caught in a steroid probe in 2007 (neither was punished). The FBI has, I think, stricter drug screening protocols than most local police departments, but agents purchasing steroids is certainly not unheard of. (Also, if baseball has taught us nothing else about steroid use, it’s taught us that it’s easier to trace the purchasing of steroids than test for their use.)

But maybe Grimm isn’t roided out. It’s quite possible that Grimm is an unhinged nightmare of toxic, entitled machismo completely without the aid of chemical enhancement. People with those sorts of personalities seem for some reason particularly drawn to careers in law enforcement. It might have something to do with being allowed to wield power over others through physical intimidation and outright violence without fear of reprisal or even societal disapproval?

Because we for some reason allow law enforcement officers to steal money, raid homes, shoot pets and sometimes wave guns around in nightclubs without going to prison. Cops routinely plant drugs on suspects and lie about it in court. We indulge the widespread law enforcement belief that they are soldiers in a “war on crime,” and that the danger and importance of their mission justifies excessive force and rule-bending.

The FBI’s rule-bending is admittedly more sophisticated than that of your average urban police force. The bureau specializes in convincing nitwits to attempt ridiculous bombing plots that they otherwise would’ve never conceived of. They rely on sketchy criminal informants, like Josef von Habsburg, a con man who worked with Agent Grimm, ginning up federal crimes for cash, like so many other FBI informants.

Grimm is just what happens when the worst sort of hyper-aggressive lawman transitions into another field where being a short-tempered bullying prick is rewarded rather than punished: conservative politics. The sort of person who very much wants to be a cop or an FBI undercover agent is the sort of person we should least trust with the job. While it’s tempting to say we also shouldn’t trust those sorts of men in politics, we’re probably safer with Grimm in Congress than with a badge and a license to use deadly force. Now, after all, he actually gets in trouble for his gangster movie tough guy act.

And because he represents Staten Island, New York City’s incongruous outpost of white reactionary resentment, we should probably not get our hopes up about getting rid of him any time soon.

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, January 30, 2014

February 1, 2014 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Michael Grimm | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Just The Tip Of The Iceberg”: The Real Scandal With Tough-Guy Rep Michael Grimm

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), a two-term Staten Island congressman with stints in the Marines and FBI, grabbed our attention after President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night. More specifically, he grabbed NY1 reporter Michael Scotto after Scotto asked him about a bubbling campaign finance scandal, memorably uttering these words, caught on the rolling camera’s video (watch

Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I’ll throw you off this f—ing balcony…. You’re not man enough, you’re not man enough. I’ll break you in half. Like a boy. [NY1]

Alright, that’s probably a sentiment a lot of politicians have wanted to convey to a reporter. But now, thanks to Grimm’s threats, everybody knows that he is embroiled in, and touchy about, something to do with allegedly illegal campaign donations. Before we get to that story, Grimm decided to address his partial-on-camera outburst with this statement:

I was extremely annoyed because I was doing NY1 a favor by rushing to do their interview first in lieu of several other requests. The reporter knew that I was in a hurry and was only there to comment on the State of the Union, but insisted on taking a disrespectful and cheap shot at the end of the interview because I did not have time to speak off-topic. I verbally took the reporter to task and told him off because I expect a certain level of professionalism and respect, especially when I go out of my way to do that reporter a favor. I doubt that I am the first member of Congress to tell off a reporter, and I am sure I won’t be the last.

MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin sarcastically cuts to the PR lesson:

Well this careful apology should ensure this Michael Grimm story goes away fast

But here’s the story Scotto was asking Grimm about in the Capitol rotunda: Last week, the FBI arrested Grimm’s fundraiser (and ex-girlfriend) Diana Durand on charges of illegally contributing more than $10,000 to Grimm’s 2010 campaign through straw donors. Here’s how the New York Daily News describes the alleged “donor swapping”:

The swapping works like this: A donor who gives the maximum to Candidate A then donates to Candidate B — and in return, a donor or friend of Candidate B gives an identical amount to Candidate A. [NY Daily News]

In one case described by the Daily News, Candidate A was Bert Mizusawa, a GOP House candidate in Virginia, and the maxed-out donor was Washington lawyer Bazil Facchina; Durand was the second alleged donor, and Grimm Candidate B. The newspaper said its review of 2010 federal campaign finance record found at least another 20 such transactions involving Grimm and fellow candidates in California, South Dakota, Illinois, and Virginia.

The Daily News investigation implicates Grimm personally in one questionable transaction, but he’s not listed in the Justice Department indictment. But Grimm has been under investigation for two years, and Durand is merely the newest wrinkle. In August, Ofer Biton — a former top aide to Israeli Orthodox Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto — pleaded guilty to visa fraud; in early 2012, The New York Times reported that Biton and Grimm allegedly sought illegal campaign donations from Pinto followers, including large cash contributions and donations from undocumented immigrants.

Even with those allegations, Grimm’s constituents re-elected him in 2012, 48 percent to 43 percent. He first won election in the GOP wave of 2010, unseating freshman Democrat Michael McMahon by about three points. But let’s face it, campaign finance violations fall into the category of “boring but important,” with an emphasis on boring. Threatening to murder a reporter with your bare hands? Not boring.

And that’s not even the most colorful story in Grimm’s recent past. (No, I’m not talking about this one.) In 2006, after leaving the FBI, he opened up a health food restaurant with an alleged mobster with ties to the Gambino crime family. And in 2011, Evan Ratliff wrote about FBI undercover operations in The New Yorker, including some eyebrow-raising allegations about Grimm from a New York City Police officer who was moonlighting as a bouncer. At the time, July 1999, Grimm was an FBI agent, apparently dating a married woman.

According to the NYPD officer, Gordon Williams, Grimm and the woman entered a nightclub in Queens, Caribbean Tropics, around midnight and ran into the woman’s estranged husband. Williams broke up the ensuing altercation, but says Grimm and the husband returned at 2:30 a.m. for a standoff in the club’s garage, with Grimm waving a gun around, screaming he was going to kill the guy, and saying: “I’m a fucking FBI agent, ain’t nobody going to threaten me.” Ratliff then recounts this epilogue:

Grimm left the club, but at 4 a.m., just before the club closed, he returned again, according to Williams, this time with another FBI agent and a group of NYPD officers. Grimm had told the police that he had been assaulted by the estranged husband and his friends. Williams said that Grimm took command of the scene, and refused to let the remaining patrons and employees leave. “Everybody get up against the fucking wall,” Williams recalled him saying. “The FBI is in control.” Then Grimm, who apparently wanted to find the man with whom he’d had the original altercation, said something that Williams said he’ll never forget: “All the white people get out of here.” [New Yorker]

Completely accurate or not (Grimm says not), that’s a pretty juicy story. And not many people would know about it if Grimm had kept his temper in check Tuesday night.


By: Peter Weber, The Week, January 29, 2014

January 30, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Michael Grimm | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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