News / USA

    US Congressman Faces 20-Count Criminal Charge

    U.S. Representative Michael Grimm talks to reporters outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 29, 2014.
    U.S. Representative Michael Grimm talks to reporters outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 29, 2014.
    U.S. Congressman Michael Grimm, a former FBI agent who once investigated corruption cases, now faces a number of federal criminal charges.
     
    A 20-count indictment says Grimm hid more than $1 million in receipts from his Manhattan restaurant, called “Healthalicious,” from 2007 to 2010. He left the business upon election to Congress.
     
    The government’s case against Grimm, now in his second congressional term, charges him with “obstructing and impeding IRS (Internal Revenue Service) functions, conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
     
    The charges include “false tax returns to be filed, mail fraud, wire fraud, health care fraud, perjury, obstruction of an official proceeding, and the hiring of undocumented workers,” according to U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch.
     
    Unlike many countries, where government officials and lawmakers have immunity from prosecution while in office, no such protection exists in the United States. Over the years, Congressmen, state governors, and others have faced trial and even prison.
     
    Grimm, a Republican who represents part of New York City in the House of Representatives, sounded a defiant tone after his April 28 arraignment in Brooklyn Federal District Court.
     
    “Since day one, the press has been fed all kinds of innuendos and accusations to support – and let me be very clear – a political witch hunt,” Grimm told reporters. “And this political witch hunt was designed to do a couple of things, but first and foremost, [to] assassinate my character, and remove me from office.”
     
    Grimm and his supporters claim what also proves that this case is politically motivated was its being officially filed weeks after the deadline passed for adding or removing candidates from the November 2014 election ballot. This, they say, was meant to prevent his party from putting someone else up for Congress, weakening Republican chances to retain his seat.
     
    The restaurant related charges against Grimm may not be the only ones he will face.
     
    Second investigation

    There are numerous reports that there is a second investigation underway connected to his congressional campaign fundraising activities.
     
    One allegation involves the possibility that a Rabbi raised a half-million dollars by collecting from foreign nationals, which is prohibited under U.S. law.
     
    Grimm’s former girlfriend, Diana Durand, has entered a “not guilty” plea to a three count federal indictment charging that she illegally reimbursed some people who contributed to Grimm’s 2010 race.
     
    Meanwhile, the Republican Party has effectively gone from strongly backing his 2014 re-election bid to washing its hands of him.
     
    “They’ve withdrawn their support,” said reporter Alexandra Jaffee at the politics-focused Washington newspaper The Hill. “We’ve been told by sources “that they won’t be fundraising for him. They won’t be spending on his race anymore. And that’s good for them [the Republican Party].”
     
    The Republican National Congressional Committee, which initially included Grimm in a 10-candidate fundraising drive slated for later this month, has dropped him from that list.
     
    Still, political analysts say there may be legal maneuvering by his defense attorneys to try to give him the best possible chance to save his seat in Congress.
     
    “You want the court hearing after the election, so the people of Staten Island [the district which Grimm represents] can choose whether to vote for Representative Grimm or not,” said Mark Rom, a political science professor at Georgetown University. “So that may give him a little breathing room.
     
    “On the other hand, it’s really hard to run for Congress when you have the feds looking over your shoulder, and you know you will be brought to a courtroom after the election,” Rom said.
     
    No trial date has been set.
     
    Looking forward

    Grimm defiantly presses forward with his election bid.
     
    “I know who I am, and I know what I’ve done for this country for almost 20 years now,” he said. “I know I am a moral man, a man of integrity,” he says. “And I know I have a lot more service and leadership to provide [to] this country.”
     
    Assistant FBI Director George Venizelos sees Grimm quite differently.
     
    “As a former FBI agent, Representative Grimm should understand the [FBI] motto - ‘Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity,’” he said in a statement. “Yet he broke our credo at nearly every turn. In this 20-count indictment, Representative Grimm honored a new motto: fraud, perjury, and obstruction.

    Jeffrey Young

    Jeffrey Young is a Senior Analyst in VOA’s Global English TV.  He has spent years covering global strategic issues, corruption, the Middle East, and Africa. During most of 2013, he was on special assignment in Baghdad and elsewhere with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Previous VOA activities include video journalism and the “Focus” news analysis unit. He also does journalist training overseas for VOA.

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