Ex-aide to rabbi, US lawmaker due in court

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An attorney for an Israeli fundraiser arrested by the FBI on an immigration fraud charge tells Al Monitor that he plans to take the case to trial. He also refuted any suggestion that someone other than his client is paying his legal fees.

Ofer Biton, a former fundraiser to Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island, NY) and former aide to Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, was released to house arrest last week after a one-time business partner of Grimm’s paid his $1.5 million bail. Federal authorities are investigating Grimm over allegations that he accepted illegal campaign contributions from members of Pinto’s congregation.

Late Thursday, Israeli media reported that Rabbi Pinto himself had been remanded to house arrest in Israel after allegedly trying to bribe an Israeli police investigator. The reports allege that senior Israeli police investigators had taped Pinto offering a bribe of $200,000 for information on a money laundering investigation concerning him or his associates. Pinto’s attorney told Israel’s Maariv that the rabbi had done nothing wrong and had been cooperating in answering all of the police’s questions.

Biton is due to have a status hearing in his case on Friday, John Meringolo, Biton’s defense attorney, told Al Monitor in a phone conversation this week. Authorities have been seeking to get Biton’s cooperation in their federal campaign finance investigation of Grimm, a freshman Republican who is running for re-election next month. But to date, Biton has refused to cooperate, and Meringolo said he plans to bring the case before a jury.

US prosecutors, arguing against Biton’s release at his bail hearing last week, reportedly alleged that the man who paid Biton’s bail, New York restaurant developer Bennett Orfaly, maintains close ties to his former business partner Grimm, as well a convicted member of the Gambino crime family, the New York Post reported.

“Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm investigated the Gambino crime family as an FBI agent — before opening a restaurant with a business partner so close to one of the mob clan’s capos, he considers him an ‘uncle,’ according to sources and court documents,” the New York Post wrote.

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