Ex-Aide to Rep. Grimm and Rabbi Pinto changes attorneys


Ofer Biton, a former fundraiser for Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) and aide to Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, has hired a new attorney, Al-Monitor has learned. Biton was arrested by the FBI in August on an immigration fraud charge, amid a federal campaign finance probe of Grimm.

Biton has retained former federal prosecutor Alan Vinegrad, the former US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, as his new defense counsel, sources familiar with the development told Al-Monitor Friday.

Biton has been represented in proceedings to date by John Meringolo, whose most well known past clients include John Gotti Jr., and Gambino crime family soldier Greg DePalma.

Biton, an Israeli citizen, was released on bail to house arrest last week. He appeared at a status hearing on his case before US District Judge Roslynn Mauskopf in Brooklyn Friday, and informed the court of his intent to add Vinegrad to his defense team.

Meringolo, in past court proceedings, has alleged that prosecutors were pressuring his client to cooperate in their campaign finance probe of Grimm in exchange for leniency. But Biton would not cooperate against the Staten Island freshman Republican, he told reporters after a court appearance last month. “I haven’t seen any evidence whatsoever of wrongdoing of Michael Grimm,” Meringolo told reporters after a hearing Sept. 7. (Asked about the remark–seemingly on behalf of someone other than his client–by Al-Monitor this week, Meringolo declined to comment, but insisted that Biton was the only one paying his legal fees.)

Meringolo also said that he intended to take Biton’s case to trial.

It’s not clear if Biton’s decision to change attorney suggests he is reconsidering his options.

Vinegrad, now a partner at Covington & Burling, did not return a message left by Al-Monitor Friday.

Last week, a former business partner of Grimm’s, Bennett Orfaly, paid Biton’s $1.5 million bail fee, an arrangement federal attorneys grunbled about.

Federal authorities are investigating allegations that Grimm pressed members of Rabbi Pinto’s congregation for campaign donations for his 2010 House race, some beyond legal limits or from people not eligible to donate to US political campaigns. Grimm, who is running for re-election, has denied the allegations.

On Friday, Israeli police said they had released Rabbi Pinto to house arrest late Thursday after he was caught on tape in a sting offering a senior Israeli police investigator a $200,000 bribe for information on a money laundering investigation, Israeli media reported.

An attorney for Pinto, speaking to Israeli media Friday, has denied any wrongdoing by his client, and said Pinto had been cooperating in answering police questions.

(Photo: Ofer Biton, by Yossef Ben Yossef, via New York Times.)

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