Rep. Grimm Pleads Not Guilty To Fraud Charges
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
New York City Congressman Michael Grimm is a former FBI agent. Yesterday he surrendered to the FBI after being indicted on 20 charges related to taxes, perjury and fraud. Mr. Grimm is fighting the charges but said he would step down from the powerful House Financial Services Committee. News of Grimm's indictment leaked last Friday, so that announcement yesterday was not a surprise.
But the charges were. NPR's Peter Overby explains.
PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: The surprise was that Grimm was not indicted on the campaign finance allegations that have hung over him for more than two years. Instead, the indictment focuses on his three years in the fast food business. Grimm and his lawyers say it caps off a political vendetta against him. Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, told reporters that Grimm had a plan for his restaurant.
LORETTA LYNCH: To systematically lie to every taxing authority to whom his business had an obligation to report, all as part of his scheme to evade taxes and keep more money for himself.
OVERBY: Grimm represents Staten Island and a bit of Brooklyn. He's a former Marine and undercover FBI agent. In between the FBI and Congress, he owned Healthilicious, a fast food place on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The indictment says Grimm hired undocumented immigrants, paid workers partly or entirely in cash, and kept two sets of books.
It also alleges that when former workers sued for back pay, he lied on a deposition.
LYNCH: Michael Grimm made the choice to go from upholding the law to breaking it.
OVERBY: Prosecutor Lynch wouldn't discuss the campaign finance allegations, but she avoided saying they'd been dismissed.
LYNCH: The investigation certainly is wide-ranging and ongoing.
OVERBY: Grimm responded at a press conference of his own.
REPRESENTATIVE, MICHAEL GRIMM, REPUBLICAN, NEW YORK: This political witch hunt was designed to do a couple of things, but first and foremost assassinate my character and remove me from office.
OVERBY: The House Ethics Committee started looking at Grimm's fundraising in 2012. It soon stepped back at the Justice Department's request. One fundraiser for Grimm has pleaded guilty to Visa fraud. Another fundraiser was arrested this January on charges of funneling illegal money through straw donors. Two weeks after that arrest, a TV reporter on Capitol Hill tried to ask Grimm about the case.
Grimm said, quote, If you ever do that to me again, I'll throw you off this balcony. And he went on: You're not man enough, I'll break you in half like a boy. He later apologized. Yesterday, Grimm said he knows and loves his constituents.
YORK: I think they've grown to know and love me. I didn't abandon them. They're not going to abandon me.
OVERBY: But by now Grimm is politically radioactive. David Wasserman is editor of House coverage at the Cook Political Report. He's got an expression for an indicted member of Congress.
DAVID WASSERMAN: A dead duck in the next election. The problem here for Republicans is that they're stuck with Grimm on the ballot.
OVERBY: Grimm's district in 2012 voted for both Grimm and President Obama. Now, Wasserman has changed the Cook Report's assessment from lean Republican to lean Democratic. And by lunchtime yesterday, Democrats were using Grimm in fundraising emails and attacking GOP lawmakers who'd gotten campaign money from him. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.