Staten Island Representative Michael Grimm Accused of Tapping Rabbi’s Followers for Illegal Cash Donations

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Rep. Michael Grimm of Staten Island.

A little over a year ago, Representative Michael Grimm was headed to Washington as part of the new freshman class of tea partiers who broke the Democrats' hold on government and, some might say, almost broke government period. Though he has been attacked for publicly squabbling with other tea partiers in the House over their debt-ceiling brinksmanship, the congressman now faces accusations that may prove even more damaging. According to the Times, several followers of Israeli mystic Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto say that back in 2010, Grimm and one of the rabbi's top aides tried skirting the $4,800 maximum individual campaign contribution by taking cash donations (above the $100 limit) under the table and even accepting donations from non-U.S. citizens.

One follower says Grimm asked him to meet "near the F.B.I. building" in downtown Manhattan, where, sitting in Grimm's car, the man passed the candidate $5,000 in cash. (He later he gave the now-congressman a $5,000 check from a friend.) Yet another of Rabbi Pinto's followers claims that Ofer Biton, the rabbi's aide, asked him to collect $25,000 from a single (non-U.S.) Israeli — the money was then recorded as coming from five made-up straw donors. Biton, who many in the community believed was helping Grimm in order to obtain a green card through him, is now the subject of an FBI investigation.

When reached by the Times, Representative Grimm (the first New York member of Congress to endorse Mitt Romney) first responded with an e-mail that didn't seem to take the accusations too seriously.

At first, I thought it was a joke because the allegations are so absurd and ridiculous. But let me be very clear, the information you received is completely false and I know is unsubstantiated, thus completely unfit to print.

A few days later, his office issued an official rebuttal.

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.

Ironically enough, Michael McMahon, the incumbent Democrat whom Grimm ran against in the summer of 2010, actually tried using Grimm's heavy fund-raising in the Jewish community against him — a move that backfired stupendously. What McMahon was missing was a juicy detail like an illicit cash handoff in a parked car under the Feds' very noses.