Congressman Grimm's Rabbi Charged In FBI Probe Surrounding 2010 Campaign
An influential rabbi whose followers sparked an FBI probe by claiming that they had funneled illegal campaign contributions to U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm is now himself under investigation in Israel.
Yoshiyahu Pinto, a mystical rabbi known for his ties to business and political leaders in Israel and the U.S., was questioned by Israeli police on Thursday about allegations that he tried to bribe a high-ranking police officer for access to a sensitive case file, a police spokesman said. Pinto's wife was also questioned, according to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
Pinto rose to prominence in New York earlier this year, when aides and members of his congregation claimed they had been pressured into making illegal campaign gifts to Grimm, a Staten Island Republican. During Grimm's 2010 race, Pinto followers contributed at least $250,000 to $300,000 to the campaign, much of it coming during the early months of his candidacy when he was a relative unknown.
The FBI has been investigating for several months. This summer, agents arrested the former Pinto aide who had served as Grimm's primary liaison to donors in the congregation. The Israeli businessman, Ofer Biton, was charged with immigration fraud.
No charges related to campaign fundraising have been filed in connection with that investigation, and Grimm has denied any wrongdoing. His lawyers didn't respond to a request for comment Friday about Pinto's legal troubles in Israel.
Biton has also denied any wrongdoing.
Israeli media reported Friday that a court magistrate had restricted Pinto's travel and confined him to his home while the investigation is ongoing.
Pinto's lawyer in New York, Arthur Aidala, said the bribery allegations were "shameless" and false.
"Once again, Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto has been the victim of an attempted scheme to defame and slander his reputation and diminish the monumental impact of his charitable work," Aidala said. "Unlike in the American criminal justice system, in Israel an individual can be detained for a prolonged period of time without formal charges; this is in no way proof of wrongdoing. Rabbi Pinto has and will continue to fully cooperate with authorities until this baseless investigation is concluded."
Grimm hasn't received substantial support from Pinto's followers this year during his ongoing re-election campaign against Democrat Mark Murphy.