In the fall of 2010, then-Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) informed the FBI that now-Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) was allegedly attempting to extort campaign contributions from a politically well-connected orthodox rabbi, Weiner said today.
Grimm has previously been accused of accepting questionable donations collected by a former associate of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto. Weiner’s revelation would put Grimm, a former FBI agent himself, closer to the federal investigation surrounding Pinto’s former associates.
In an interview with Roll Call, Weiner said Pinto, who leads the popular Shuva Israel congregation, informed him in the early fall of 2010 that Grimm had attempted to extort money from him. Pinto’s ministries stretch from Israel to the United States and he splits his time between the two countries.
“I can confirm the Rabbi did bring allegations to me and I can confirm that I turned them over to the FBI immediately,” Weiner said.
He declined to comment on the specifics of his conversation with Pinto and the exact nature of Grimm’s alleged threats are unclear. However, sources familiar with the situation said it appears Grimm might have sought to use his status as a former FBI agent in pressuring Pinto.
Weiner resigned from Congress last year after it was discovered he had attempted to cover up the fact that he had sent inappropriate pictures to women using Twitter.
The FBI’s New York field office did not return a request for comment, and Pinto was unavailable for immediate comment.
William McGinley, a partner at the Patton Boggs law firm, flatly rejected the allegations on Grimm’s behalf.
“Anthony Weiner’s latest fantasy is preposterous and untrue. Consider the source: a former Democratic Member who resigned in disgrace after lying to the press and his constituents about someone hacking into his Twitter account and posting lewd images. Mr. Weiner’s false allegations about Congressman Grimm are no more credible than his original claims of innocence in WeinerGate,” McGinley said in a statement.
“The Democratic smear campaign against Congressman Grimm has officially jumped the shark. The allegations are so ridiculous that they are not worthy of a comment directly from Congressman Grimm,” he added.
McGinley also provided Roll Call with a Feb. 16 “Good Guy Letter” from the FBI that confirms Grimm worked with the agency and left in good standing. McGinley questioned why the FBI would provide the letter if Grimm were under investigation. However, the letter is narrowly written and appears to be specifically about the Congressman’s employment with the FBI.
In January, the New York Times reported that Grimm allegedly worked with Ofer Biton, a former associate and translator for Pinto, to collect $500,000 from Pinto’s congregations, many of whom are Israeli citizens.
For instance, Yossi Zaga, a prominent New York real estate developer, told the New York Times that “Grimm and Biton were together all the time during the campaign. ... They would drive around together to the homes and offices [of congregation members] and ask for contributions.” Zaga donated $4,800 to Grimm’s campaign.
According to a December New York Times story, Biton and Ronn Torossian are under investigation by the FBI for allegedly stealing millions of dollars in donations from Pinto’s congregation.
Once thought of as an up-and-coming star within the GOP, Grimm has become embroiled in a series of scandals involving his behavior during and after his time with the FBI. For instance, a May 2011 New Yorker article detailed an alleged altercation Grimm had in 1999 at the Caribbean Tropics night club in Queens while he was an undercover agent. According to the article, following an altercation with another man at the club, Grimm later returned with other FBI agents and police officers to confront the man. Grimm has strenuously denied those charges.
Grimm’s business dealings after leaving the FBI have also come under scrutiny, including his decision to go into business with a fellow former agent who, at the time, was under indictment on racketeering and fraud charges.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has seized on the controversies in its efforts to oust Grimm, who defeated Democratic incumbent Michael McMahon in 2010, and Democrats have targeted his seat as a top priority in this year’s elections.
Pinto is an enormously influential rabbi with a large congregation in the United States and Israel. He has also been a spiritual adviser to a host of celebrities including basketball player LeBron James, and has met with a number of political figures including Weiner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
Each year since 1990, CQ Roll Call has reviewed the financial disclosures of all 541 senators, representatives and delegates to determine the 50 richest members of Congress. This year's report, derived from forms covering the calendar year 2012, shows it took a net worth of $6.67 million to crack the exclusive club.