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Questions Arise Over Pinto Followers’ Campaign Contributions to Congressman

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Congressman Michael Grimm’s financial relationship with followers of Rabbi Pinto is being questioned by the FBI.A law enforcement official has revealed that the FBI may initiate an investigation into charges that followers of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, a prominent Israeli rabbi currently headquartered in New York, gave illegal contributions to Congressman Michael Grimm (R-Brooklyn & Staten Island). Simultaneously, Rabbi Pinto has claimed that the money was donated to the elected official under threat of extortion.

Federal authorities became aware of the questionable transactions when former Representative Anthony Weiner reported to them that Rabbi Pinto contacted him in the fall of 2010 to complain that Grimm had extorted him for the funds. Rabbi Pinto’s followers had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Grimm during his run for the congressional seat in 2010, and some of the donors subsequently stated that they violated government regulations by donating beyond the legal limits for campaign contributions.

“I can confirm the rabbi did bring allegations to me and I can confirm that I turned them over to the FBI immediately,” Weiner told Roll Call, the newspaper that covers Capitol Hill. Weiner did not offer details about why Rabbi Pinto believed he had been threatened. The law enforcement official confirmed that the FBI is gathering information and determining whether to open a formal investigation into the campaign fundraising for Grimm by Pinto’s followers.

“These allegations are so profoundly absurd,” stated Grimm in response to the news, “that they serve as proof of the coordinated, Democratic smear campaign designed to recruit a stronger opponent to challenge me.” Calling the allegations “laughable,” Grimm accused Weiner of fabricating his conversation with the FBI.  Grimm further contended that if Weiner had actually learned of such a controversial charge in the fall of 2010, he would have publicized it to ensure that the then Democrat-occupied congressional seat would not become occupied by a Republican.  “No rational person would believe these politically motivated fantasies,” Grimm said in a statement.   

According to Congressman Grimm’s lawyer, William McGinley, the FBI had not informed Grimm about a criminal investigation into campaign contributions. McGinley said the campaign “proactively” reached out to the Justice Department and FBI following a report in The New York Times last January revealing allegations by Rabbi Pinto’s followers that they bypassed campaign finance rules to funnel money to Grimm’s campaign.

Congressman Grimm has acknowledged that Ofer Biton, a key aide to Rabbi Pinto, was instrumental in helping him make connections with the sage’s followers. Grimm has said previously that Biton arranged meetings between the congressman and Pinto’s followers, many of whom are Israelis, and maintained lists of potential donors.

Ron Torossian, who served at one time as another aide to Pinto, donated over $5,000 to Grimm, who pledged during his campaign to be a strong supporter of Israel. Torossian has disclosed it was the rabbi who first introduced him to Grimm. The congressman has repeatedly denied having any knowledge that Pinto’s supporters were violating the law when they arranged the donations to his campaign.

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