According to sources, the FBI is looking into allegations that, in 2010, then-Congressional candidate Michael Grimm (above) tried to extort campaign funding from Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto and could launch a formal investigation into the affair.
Baran noted that while campaign finance issues have been handled traditionally by the Federal Election Commission, OCE has begun looking into those sorts of complaints, including into "campaign contributions and whether they were in exchange for special favors from the Members."
OCE could then recommend a formal investigation by the House Ethics Committee or the office could launch its own inquiry into the allegations.
Aside from the FBI and Congress, Grimm could also face scrutiny from the FEC.
"As a general matter, campaign finance issues are left up to the Federal Election Commission. You have many Members who have been audited or whose campaigns have been fined but there hasn't been any related Ethics Committee" activity, Baran said.
FBI officials are trying to determine whether Grimm did in fact look to use his position as a former FBI agent to intimidate or extort campaign funding from Pinto, who leads the Shuva Israel community in New York and Israel and is extremely influential in the religious and business communities.
Former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) informed the FBI of those allegations in the fall of 2010 after Pinto confided in him that Grimm had approached him, Weiner told Roll Call late last week.
According to sources, Pinto made the allegations after he broke off relations with Ofer Biton, a former translator and top aide to the rabbi who has been accused of stealing funds from his congregation. According to news reports, Pinto broke off relations with Biton in March 2010. Pinto came to Weiner with his concerns about Grimm in the fall of that year, weeks before Grimm's election to the House.
The New York Times earlier this year reported on allegations being leveled by members of Pinto's flock that Grimm worked with Biton to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars from members of the congregation and helped set up straw donors to funnel Grimm the cash.
Grimm and Biton have strenuously denied those charges, and Grimm's camp has strongly denied Weiner's charge that he pressured the rabbi or sought to extort campaign funding from him.
Supporters of Grimm have charged that the allegations are nothing more than a politically motivated smear campaign being orchestrated by Democrats.
In a statement put out over the weekend, former Rep. Guy Molinari (R-N.Y.) called the allegations "a coordinated smear campaign that is fraught with inconsistencies, innuendoes through anonymous sources and outright lies."
Molinari specifically blamed Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) of fearing that "Grimm will have a big re-election victory that could catapult him to top contender status for a state-wide seat, possibly to challenge Schumer himself for the Senate or even governor. Either way, they are frightened of his potential and are trying to clip his wings early." Grimm's attorneys also said he has not been contacted by the FBI or Department of Justice, nor has he received a "target letter" from DOJ informing him he is under investigation.