OCE Won’t Endorse Probe of Michael Grimm

Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:59pm

The independent Office of Congressional Ethics has voted unanimously to recommend the dismissal of an investigation into Rep. Michael Grimm’s fundraising, sources familiar with the investigation said.

The decision might aid the Republican’s re-election efforts in his New York City district, but it is unlikely to end his legal troubles. Grimm is still reportedly under investigation by the FBI and has spent more than $300,000 on legal bills.

“I welcome the unanimous recommendation of the Office of Congressional Ethics to dismiss this matter, and respect the system in place to uphold the highest ethical standards for those who serve in Congress. I continue to remain focused on working tirelessly for the people of Staten Island and Brooklyn by fighting for the issues that matter most to them, whether it’s toll relief, creating local jobs, or protecting Social Security and Medicare for our seniors,” Grimm said in a statement.

Grimm’s lawyer at Patton Boggs, William McGinley, said: “The OCE made the correct recommendation to dismiss this matter. As we have said before, the allegations against Congressman Grimm are unfounded and any fair and objective inquiry will confirm that Congressman Grimm engaged in no wrongdoing.”

One factor that might have prompted the OCE to dismiss the case is the limits of its jurisdiction.

The independent organization was established in 2008 with the authority to investigate complaints from people inside and outside Congress and refer its findings to the House Ethics Committee.

But the OCE can only investigate the conduct of a sitting Member, and most allegations about Grimm have focused on fundraising activities before he was elected to Congress.

The House Ethics Committee could launch its own investigation but could face similar jurisdictional hurdles.

Several media outlets, including the New York Times, Associated Press and New York Daily News, have reported that the FBI is investigating Grimm over an alleged attempt to extort campaign contributions from an influential rabbi during the 2010 campaign.

In March, Roll Call first reported that Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto told former Rep. Anthony Weiner in the fall of 2010 that Grimm had attempted to extort campaign funds from him. The New York Democrat said he informed the FBI of those allegations immediately following his meeting with Pinto.

Although Grimm has strenuously denied Weiner’s claims, the AP also reported then that FBI officials confirmed that Weiner reached out to them in 2010.

Earlier, the New York Times reported on hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable donations Grimm and Ofer Biton, a former associate of Pinto, collected from members of the rabbi’s congregation. Biton is under investigation by the FBI for allegedly embezzling millions in donations to Pinto’s synagogue.

Sources anonymously quoted in the Times story alleged Biton raised money for Grimm in the hopes Grimm would help him obtain a green card to stay in the United States legally. If Grimm had intervened to help Biton obtain a green card in return for campaign donations as a Member, that conduct would have been within the OCE’s jurisdiction.

According to his most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission, Grimm’s campaign committee owes $321,000 to Patton Boggs for legal fees.

Democrats said Grimm’s troubles aren’t over.

“Congressman Grimm has already racked up more than $300,000 in legal bills, and that is sure to continue as the FBI continues looking into his potentially illegal campaign fundraising last election,” said Josh Schwerin, Northeast press secretary at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Congressman Grimm can try to spin his way out of this, but that won’t change the fact that he is facing a federal investigation and a mountain of legal bills.”

Grimm represents a competitive district. He is set to face Democratic opponent Mark Murphy, a former Congressional aide and the son of former Rep. John Murphy (D-N.Y.).

Roll Call rates the race as Likely Republican.