(JTA) — An ex-aide to an influential rabbi who is now a top fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm may have steered illegal campaign donations to the freshman New York lawmaker.
The New York Times reported Jan. 27 that Ofer Biton, a former aide to Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto and an Israeli citizen, is under federal investigation over accusations that he embezzled millions of dollars from the rabbi’s congregation. The Times also reported that it conducted interviews with followers and associates of the rabbi who said that Biton strong-armed donations for Grimm that were over the legal limit and from foreign donors without a green card, which is illegal.
The Grimm campaign collected some $500,000 from Pinto’s followers, the Times reported.
“Any suggestion that I was involved in any activities that may run afoul of the campaign finance laws is categorically false and belied by my life of public service protecting and enforcing the laws of this country,” Grimm, a Republican, said in a statement issued Jan. 27.
Pinto, who built a branch of his congregation in New York City and splits his time between Israel and New York, is often consulted about business dealings by Jewish and non-Jewish personalities. In recent years he has met with basketball star LeBron James, as well as Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader, and former Rep. Anthony Weiner.
Biton reportedly is pursuing a green card to allow him to remain and work legally in the United States, according to the newspaper.
Grimm is running for re-election in November.