Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island), following a lengthy federal investigation into campaign finances, turned himself in Monday morning to face charges that he fraudulently under-reported more than $1 million in sales and wages at Healthalicious, a restaurant he owned on the Upper East Side.
Federal prosecutors say that from 2007 to 2010, Grimm ran the 1594 Second Avenue restaurant using undocumented workers, regularly underreported income to state and federal tax authorities and lied under oath during a federal civil lawsuit by two former employees.
The indictment unsealed in Brooklyn federal court on Monday charged Grimm with five counts of wire fraud, five counts of mail fraud and three counts of aiding in the preparation of false tax returns, among other charges. He faces 20 years in prison for each mail and wire fraud charge and ten years on charges of health care fraud.
“In 2007, Michael Grimm, former Marine, former FBI agent, accountant and attorney, was poised for success as a small business owner,” U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in an announcement this morning. “Instead, as alleged, Grimm made the choice from upholding the law to breaking it.”
Grimm pleaded not guilty to the charges in federal court and was released after posting bond.
“But time and time again I’ve shown I don’t abandon my post,” Grimm said in a press conference today. “I didn’t abandon my post when I was being fired upon in combat, I didn’t abandon my post when I thought my identity was compromised and I was deep undercover as an FBI agent. I’m not abandoning my post now.”
The restaurant has been linked to allegations of campaign finance irregularities involving the congressman and supporters of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto, a spiritual advisor to several major New York real estate figures. After retiring from the FBI, Grimm opened the restaurant with a business partner Bennett Orfaly, who allegedly had ties to organized crime.
Orfaly is a partner in several Manhattan restaurants with an Israeli businessman named Ofer Biton. Biton has reportedly been linked to illegal campaign contributions tied to Pinto supporters. Grimm allegedly raised several hundred thousands of dollars for his 2010 campaign from backers linked to Pinto. Biton is a former aide to Pinto.
Biton pled guilty to Visa fraud in 2013 amid reports that he refused to cooperate in the Pinto probe.
A spokesman for Lynch’s office told The Real Deal that the indictment unsealed today makes no link at all to Pinto, but he noted that the investigation is ongoing.
Grimm’s lawyer was not immediately available for comment, but he called the charges politically-driven in a statement released Friday. Biton’s lawyer, Alan Vinegrad, declined to comment.
In a highly publicized incident after the State of the Union address in January, Grimm threatened a New York 1 reporter on camera, after he asked him about the investigation during a Capitol Hill encounter.